Henry L. Marsh

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Henry L. Marsh
Member of the Virginia Senate
from the 16th district
In office
January 8, 1992 – July 3, 2014
Preceded by Elmon T. Gray
Succeeded by Rosalyn R. Dance
70th Mayor of Richmond, Virginia
In office
March 8, 1977 – June 30, 1982
Preceded by Thomas J. Bliley, Jr.
Succeeded by Roy A. West
Personal details
Born Henry Leander Marsh III
(1933-12-10) December 10, 1933 (age 81)
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Diane Harris
Children 3
Residence Richmond, Virginia
Alma mater Virginia Union University
Howard University
Profession Lawyer
Religion Baptist
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1959–1961

Henry Leander Marsh III (born December 10, 1933) is an American civil rights lawyer and politician. A Democrat, in 1977 Marsh was elected by the city council as the first African-American mayor of Richmond. He was elected to the Senate of Virginia in 1991, and has been re-elected ever since. He currently represents the 16th district, consisting of the city of Petersburg, Dinwiddie County, and parts of the city of Richmond, and Chesterfield and Prince George counties.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in 1933, Henry L. Marsh III was named for his father and grandfather. His mother died when he was only five, and his father had to split up the young family of four children for several years. Marsh was sent to an aunt and uncle who lived in a rural area. While there, he attended Moonfield School, a racially segregated "one-room school with seven grades and one teacher and 78 pupils."[2] His father was able to gather his children together again when Marsh was eleven. He started school in Richmond in fifth grade, attending George Mason Elementary School. Through this period, his father was working and also studying, having gone back to college to earn his degree and showing his children how important education was. In 1952, Henry Marsh graduated with honors from Maggie L. Walker High School, where he was senior class vice-president, president of the student NAACP chapter, and editor of the school newspaper.[2][3]

In 1956, Marsh obtained an A.B. degree in sociology from Virginia Union University. He attended the Howard University School of Law with an award of a scholarship, earning his LL.B in 1959.[1][2] Marsh then served in the United States Army.[4]

Marriage and family[edit]

Marsh married Diane Harris, and they had three children together.

Legal career[edit]

During his senior year at Virginia Union, Marsh testified on behalf of the student government at a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly. Despite the US Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, the Virginia legislature, consisting of all white members, was considering laws to enact the Byrd Organization's program of "massive resistance" to desegregation. While there, Marsh met civil rights attorney Oliver Hill, who had also testified against the plan. Hill urged him to go to law school.[2]

After law school, Marsh joined with Samuel W. Tucker to form the law firm of Tucker & Marsh in 1961. They were joined by Hill in 1965 to form Hill, Tucker & Marsh. Marsh concentrated on civil rights law, participating in such cases as Quarles v. Philip Morris, the first U.S. legal case involving racial discrimination in employment, which set the precedent for prohibiting department seniority systems and requiring equal pay for equal work. After that, he successfully litigated more than 20 "employment discrimination cases, most of which were class-action cases, representing thousands of African American and female litigants."[3]

Marsh also worked on school desegregation, beginning with Brewer v. School Board of City of Norfolk, the first of more than 50 school desegregation cases he handled. This case established a precedent requiring jurisdictions to create a desegregation plan, with the locality providing transportation to students.[3]

In Gravely v. Robb, he successfully forced the Virginia General Assembly to adopt single-member districts. This made representation more specific to a district, and enabled the election of more minority candidates.[3]

Political career[edit]

Marsh rapidly entered politics, first winning election to the Richmond City Council in 1966. The council chose him as vice-mayor in 1970. (At that time, the nine city council members elected the mayor and vice-mayor from among them. That policy continued until being changed by a city-wide referendum in 2003. Since 2004, the mayor has been elected at large.)

In the 1970s a city plan to annex more territory was challenged in court because it was shown to be based on racial discrimination. After redistricting, blacks won five of the nine council seats.[2] They elected Marsh mayor in 1977, when he became the first African-American mayor of the city.

Marsh led a coalition of black council members, who made substantive changes in the city, including the adoption of a human rights ordinance, revitalization and investment in downtown Richmond, and the appointment of African Americans to boards and commissions to reflect their contributions to the city.[2]

In 1981, Mayor Marsh hosted the "National Conference on the Black Agenda in the 80s", a conference of African-American federal, state and local officials. The conference drew more than 1,500 attendees to Richmond.[3]

In 1991, Marsh was elected to the State Senate from the newly redistricted 16th Senate district. He had first won a fiercely competitive five-way contest for the Democratic primary nomination. He continues to serve in this seat. He is chair of the committee for Courts of Justice, and a member of committees for Local Government, Finance, Rules, and Transportation.[1][3]

In 2014, Marsh was appointed as commissioner of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Political Positions[edit]

Gun Control[edit]

  • Marsh has voted multiple times against Castle Doctrine bills
    • In January 2011, Marsh voted against Senate Bill 876 (Castle Doctrine) which would have allowed “a lawful occupant use of physical force, including deadly force, against an intruder in his dwelling who has committed an overt act against him, without civil liability.” [5]
    • In February 2011, Marsh was one of eight senators on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee who “passed by indefinitely” House Bill 1573, defeating the bill by an 8 to 4 margin.[6]

Other accomplishments[edit]

Marsh co-founded the Richmond Renaissance and the Metropolitan Economic Development Council. He served as president of the National Black Caucus of Elected Officials and a member of the board of directors of the National League of Cities.

Marsh continued his dedication to education, forming the Support Committee for Excellence in the Public Schools. In addition, he established the New Millennium Leadership Institute, founded the Unity Day Celebration Committee, and hosts Richmond's Annual Juneteenth Celebration. He also serves as chairman of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission for Virginia.[3]


  1. ^ a b c "Henry Marsh III", Senate of Virginia
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Henry Marsh",Explorations in Black Leadership, Interview of Marsh by Julian Bond, University of Virginia Center for Public History
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus
  4. ^ Explorations in Black Leadership, biography
  5. ^ Norfolk Examiner, January 19, 2011
  6. ^ National Rifle Association, February 15, 2011


External links[edit]