Z. Alexander Looby
Early life and education
Looby was born in Antigua and moved to the United States in 1914 when he was just fifteen years old. Looby’s mother died while giving birth when he was just five years old. His father then died when he was a teenager. Upon arrival in the U.S. he worked various odd jobs and read books as a means to educate himself.
He attended Howard University as an undergraduate where he became a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. Looby earned his bachelor's degree from Howard University in 1922. He went on to earn a law degree from Columbia University in 1925 and a doctorate in jurisprudence from New York University in 1926.
After graduating from New York University, Looby moved to Nashville where he took a job as an assistant professor at Fisk University. In July 1928 he passed the Tennessee bar exam and opened his own practice. Then, in 1932, he helped found the Kent College of Law in Nashville. This was a night school that allowed admission to both African American men and women.
In 1946 Looby represented clients in his first well-known case after the Mink Slide riot. A white mob gathered to attack a black residential section of Columbia. The African Americans were armed and ready to defend themselves when the police entered the neighborhood. In the darkness and confusion, residents began shooting and wounded four police officers. Twenty-five blacks were arrested in conjunction with the shootings. Looby and a few other attorneys including Maurice Weaver won acquittals in twenty-three of the twenty-five cases. After the Mink Slide riot trials, Looby was able to convince Thurgood Marshall, the chief lawyer for the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP, to come to town.
Thurgood Marshall’s first cousin, Avon N. Williams Jr., was an up and coming lawyer also interested in Civil Rights. He joined Looby’s practice in order to help defend African Americans who were participating in the movement.
Ben West, a young senator in Nashville’s fifth ward, pushed for a charter reform that allowed the local residents to choose their own councilmen. In May, 1951, Looby was elected to the Nashville, Tennessee City Council, along with another lawyer, Robert Lillard, the first African Americans to be elected since 1911. In addition to being involved as a city councilman, Looby was also involved in his church. As a member of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, he served as vestryman, senior warden, and lay reader. In turn, many African American ministers would recommend Looby’s services to members of the congregation with legal problems.
After the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Looby filed a suit in Nashville on behalf of A.Z. Kelley whose son was not allowed admittance to a nearby white school. Looby is credited with beginning the school desegregation movement in Nashville.
In 1960 Looby defended the students arrested in the Nashville sit-ins. As a result of his support of the students, his house was dynamited on April 19, 1960. Looby’s home was nearly destroyed and the power of the bomb broke 140 windows at nearby Meharry Medical College resulting in minor injuries to students. Neither Looby nor his wife, Grafta Mosby Looby, were harmed in the bombing.
Looby died on March 24, 1972, at Hubbard Hospital after a prolonged period of illness. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Nashville.
Awards and Recognition
In 1976, the government of Nashville named a new library and community center in Looby's honor. In 1982, the Nashville Bar Association posthumously awarded him membership, which had been refused him in the 1950s.
In 1978, The James C. Napier Lawyers Association changed its name to the Napier-Looby Bar Association in honor of Looby and his accomplishments as an African-American lawyer focused on Civil Rights.
- Walter, Jeff (March 25, 2003). "Looby played vital role in Nashville's integration". The Tennessean.
- "About the Napier-Looby Bar Association". Retrieved 4 November 2013.
- Sarvis, Will (2003). "Leaders in the Court and the Community: Z. Alexander Looby, Avon N. Williams, Jr., and the Legal Fight for Civil Rights in Tennessee, 1940-1970". Journal of African American History 88 (1): 42–58. doi:10.2307/3559047.
- "About NLBA". Control Alt Designs. Retrieved 4 November 2013.