Home | Background | Lawyers | Wiley Austin Branton | Contact
William Harold Flowers, Sr. was born October 16, 1911, in Stamps (Lafayette County), Arkansas, the son of a businessman (A.W.) and an activist schoolteacher (Beulah Sampson Flowers). He graduated from the Robert H. Terrell Law School in Washington, D.C., and was admitted to practice in Arkansas by the state supreme court on October 21, 1935. He opened his office in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), Arkansas, at that time.
Flowers almost immediately began a practice dominated by civil rights concerns. He created the Committee on Negro Organizations (CNO) in 1940. The CNO was intended as an organization for ordinary Black citizens, unlike many existing and prior groups. It also sought to coordinate political efforts by Blacks. Despite initial reluctance and fear from the community, the CNO immediately engaged in a number of investigations and protests against discrimination that quickly drew community support.
In its first year, CNO investigated discrimination in public works employment, acted to remove a ban on African-American participation in the National Youth Administration, and obtained the appointment of a Negro census enumerator in St. Francis County. In 1941, the CNO began coordinating poll-tax drives to make more African-Americans eligible to vote, increasing the number of African-American voters from 1.5 percent of those eligible to 17.3 percent by 1947. The CNO encouraged Black school teachers to sue for equal pay in 1942. Flowers was elected in 1946 as president of the Pine Bluff branch and later served as president of the state Conference of Branches. In these positions, he increased association membership in Arkansas by large numbers.
Harold Flowers lobbied the governor, while attorney Scipio Jones independently pressured the University of Arkansas directly, in 1941to provide out-of-state tuition assistance for African-American graduate students in subjects for which the state did not provide segregated education. They were successful, the University first providing tuition for Jones’ client to attend Howard University and then sponsoring a conference attended by African-American leaders, representatives of the State Department of Education and the State Controller, at which an agreement was entered for similar payments of tuition to be paid by the State.
This system operated until spring 1948, when Harold Flowers shepherded African-American student Silas H. Hunt through registration to attend the law school at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, making it the first state university among the former Confederate states to integrate voluntarily. Then-Dean Robert A. Leflar is given credit for convincing the Governor and University Board of Trustees that accepting integration and planning for it would be better for everyone than to engage in some of the machinations used by other schools. The actual registration went smoothly. All concerned knew they were making history. (Within the next four years, five other African-American students registered in the School of Law. These men are known as the “Six Pioneers.” In addition to Silas Hunt, they are: Jackie Shropshire, George Williford Haley, Christopher Columbus Mercer, Wiley Austin Branton, and George Howard.)
In 1949, Flowers represented Wiley Austin Branton, who was charged with violating a state law prohibiting distribution of unofficial ballots. Branton’s conviction was affirmed by the state Supreme Court and a petition for writ of certiorari was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court. Flowers is listed as attorney of record for more than 20 cases during his career.
Flowers served as a special state circuit judge from 1977 to 1980, when he was named an associate justice of the state Court of Appeals. He is credited with reviving the Wonder State Bar Association, a Black attorneys organization, which was dormant between 1928 and 1938. In the 1960s, the name of the organization was changed to “Arkansas Black Lawyer Association.” In 1981, the Association was renamed in his honor – the “W. Harold Flowers Law Society.” He also served as president of the National Bar Association.
Flowers married Margaret J.O. Brown of Monticello, Arkansas. They had nine children. Two of the children became lawyers. One practices in Arkansas; the other in Colorado. He became an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church in 1969, and co-pastored an integrated church in Little Rock, Arkansas, from 1978 to 1981. Harold Flowers died on April 7, 1990.
Sources: Judith Kilpatrick, “(EXTRA)Ordinary Men: African-American Lawyers and Civil Rights in Arkansas Before 1950,” 53 Ark. Law Rev. 299, 378 n620, 382 n630, 381, 385, 387, 388, 391-93 (2000); “Southern Lawyer,” Ebony Magazine 67-69 (Nov 1949); Andree Roaf, “W. Harold Flowers, Mentor, Advisor and Inspiration,” The Arkansas Lawyer 112 (July 1985); “Atty. Harold Flowers Yields NAACP Presidency In Arkansas; Advocates Tenure Changes,” 12/21/1948, Atlanta Daily News; “NAACP Pres. Harold Flowers Not to Seek Reelection,” 11/27/1948, Shreveport Sun; Who’s Who in Colored America 188f, 189 (1950 Supp); Obituary, 4/9/1990, Washington Post, B4, col. 1; “Officials pay tribute to PB judge”, 12/4/1988, Arkansas Democrat, 15A, col. 1; Obituary, 4/9/1990, New York Times, D10, col. 6; D.L. Albritton. “The Black Men of Pine Bluff: Men of the 20th Century”, (Dec 1980), UAPB. (photograph); African American Biographical Database, Profile available at http://aabd.chadwyck.com/bbidx/full_rec. (last visited 6/21/99); Persistence of the Spirit: The Black Experience in Arkansas. (Tom Baskett, Jr. ed.); Claude R. Marx, Officials pay tribute to PB judge, Obituary, 12/4/1988, Arkansas Democrat, p. 15A, col. 1; Papers of the NAACP, Letter dated 7/14/1948 from Donald Jones, Regional Secretary, to Gloster Current, Director of Branches (copy in files);
Copyright ©2003 Judith Kilpatrick, all rights reserved