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As the nation pays tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memory today, long-forgotten papers buried in the rich historical archives in the nation’s capital tell the story of a man who kept him free for his most important civil rights work.

Today, few know of Chicago civil rights attorney William Robert Ming, who died in 1973. But for years, Ming was among the sharpest legal minds in the nation. He was an architect of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. In 1942, while working as an NAACP attorney, he won Ward v. Texas, which resulted in the reversal of a conviction of an African American man who confessed to a killing after he was tortured by police.

Perhaps most importantly, Ming represented King in 1960 before an all white, all male Alabama jury. King had been charged with perjury in a case that supporters rightly viewed as little more than an attempt to silence the civil rights figure. Ming represented King in the case, which resulted in King’s acquittal, ensuring his freedom years later during what would become his most important civil rights work.

But today, Ming is all but forgotten, though much of his story can be found in the Library of Congress’ NAACP collection or among his personal papers archived at Howard University. The story has a sad ending. In the early 1970s, Ming encountered his own legal problems. He was sent to prison on tax charges. He fell ill in prison and died. All these years later, history is clear about one thing: Ming deserved a better fate.

You can read more about Bob Ming here.

– Jim McElhatton