Sacramento, CA

Nathaniel S. Colley Legacy

A Giant In The Fight For Equality

Introducing, Nathaniel Sextus Colley, Sr.   

Nathaniels’ life began over a century ago, November 21st, 1918. He was born in the small town of Carlowsville, Alabama, 20 miles outside Selma. The youngest of 6 boys, he was thin and sickly. His widowed mother raised her children in Snowhill, Alabama. His mother recognized his unique talents early on, and she encouraged him to read books. She wanted him to be educated because he wasn’t fit to work in the fields.

Colley graduated with top honors from Snow Hill Institute before attending Tuskegee Institute. He studied chemistry under George Washington Carver, graduating in 1941 with a B.S. degree and top honors.  While at Tuskegee Institute, he met his future wife, Jerlean Jackson and they married in 1942 before he left for the war.

During World War II, Colley served overseas as captain of a chemical company where he developed a protective suit that could resist poison gas.  To read the rest of the narrative click the “learn more” button.


Highlights of Nathaniel S. Colley, Sr. 

Graduating with honors . . . 

After WWII, Nathaniel Colley returned to his home state, wanting to attend the University of Alabama. He was turned away, because he was black. 

Another door opened, and 2 years later he graduated (the only African American student in his class) from Yale Law School with honors. 

Sacramento ~ 1950

He took the State Bar test and received the highest score, which got him a job at The State Board of Education to pack text books on wooden crates

Stellar Reputation

Two Republican Attornies,  Archibald Mull and Anthony Kennedy Sr. sponsored Nathaniel before the Sacramento bar.

Fair Housing

With the backing of the local chapter of the NAACP Sacramento’s only black attorney moved quickly using the court room as a tool to break down the inherent segregation and restrictive covenants that existed throughout Sacramento and across California

Equal Access to Education

1960 California Governor Pat Brown, appointed Nathaniel to the State Board of Education, the first African American to be so named.  Colley got the text books changed insisting that the accomplishments of blacks be properly reflected.

Profile Grew Nationally

Nathaniel Colley was the National Director of the NAACP for over 30 years.

1976 Governor Jerry Brown appointed Nathaniel Chair of the Horse Racing Board 

Nathaniel represented the U.S. at Conferences and Summits around the world. 

He was special advisor to several presidents, most notably John F. Kennedy with whom he had formed a friendship.

The classroom was another setting perfectly suited for Colleys talents.

He taught Judicial Philosophy at the McGeorge School of Law for nearly 2 decades.

“He Killed Our Lincoln”  

In the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination, Colley wrote a pice for the Sacramento Observer called . . . .

         “He Killed Our Lincoln” 

He said in part; “Whenever I heard his voice or saw him on television a great feeling of pride surged through me, not only becasuse my friend was speaking, but mainly because I know his was the voice spoke for men everywhere who yearn for freedom and human dignity without regard to race, creed or color.

When this man spoke, America sang its most beautiful Anthem.

About Martin Luther King 

Asked what he remembered best of Dr. King, – Nathaniel Colley stated:

“His belief in non-violence is real genuine and his dedication to it was such that nothing could ever make him strike back.” 

In early 1991 Colley was diagnosed with brain cancer and while he continued to work during his illness the disease took his life on May 20th 1992

In 2002 the Civil Rights Project at Harvard university identified Nat Colley’s adopted home town (Sacramento) as the most integrated and diverse city in the United States.

Click Here To View The Online Exhibit
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