History of Our Law Firm in Memphis, Tennessee
County commissioner and lawyer Walter Bailey was born in 1940, in Memphis, Tennessee. He graduated from Booker T. Washington high school and went on to attend Southern University on a football scholarship. The student sit-in protests against segregation were sweeping the South at the time, and Southern University was no exception. Bailey’s brother, D’Army Bailey, also attended Southern University, and he became a leader of the civil rights movement on campus.
Walter Bailey helped his brother with his civil rights organizing and attended protests with him, some of which were violently disbanded. Southern University did its best to badger the Baileys into giving up their protests and boycotts. These efforts eventually resulted in the expulsion of D’Army Bailey and shutting down rather than accepting back its students who had been arrested in various protests.
Undaunted, Walter Bailey went on to receive his J.D. degree from the Southern University Law Center and founded The Walter Bailey Law Firm. Bailey was involved in several important civil rights-related cases, including the case that desegregated Shelby County public schools and the legal defense of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968.
In 1985, Bailey served as lead counsel on the successful Supreme Court case Tennessee vs. Garner. This landmark achievement forbid police officers from using deadly force to make an arrest unless they had probable cause to believe that the fugitive posed a deadly threat to them or bystanders.
In 1971, Bailey was elected to an unexpired term on the Shelby County Commission and was elected to a full term in the same role in 1972. Bailey served in this capacity until 2006, when term limits required him not to run. During his tenure on the commission, he was elected chairman pro tempore and then chairman proper for two terms. While on the commission, Bailey fought to rename county parks that had been named after various members of the Confederacy. In 2010, once Bailey had waited the mandated period of time, he ran again for the Shelby County Commission and his victory was unopposed.
In Memoriam: D’Army Bailey
D’Army Bailey was an inspiring individual. His accomplishments moved people to remember the past while aiming toward a better future. He passed away on July 2015 and left a proud legacy of fighting for equality for everyone.
From his early years, Bailey was an advocate for civil rights. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1967. After graduation, he helped support Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as sanitation workers on strike by sending lawyers and law students to Memphis. He worked to recruit his colleagues and other lawyers to help register black voters in Mississippi. Bailey also served as the Executive Director of the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council in New York City. In 1969, he moved to Berkeley where he was elected to the City Council in 1971.
Bailey later returned to his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, to practice law. He served as the President of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memphis Memorial Foundation. While he was President, he raised the funds needed to purchase the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated. He transformed the motel into the National Civil Rights Museum. He restored the two rooms that Dr. King rented and installed exhibits to commemorate 500 years of civil rights history. His work honored Dr. King as well as all those who continue to fight for civil rights and equality.
D'Army Bailey also appeared in nine feature films, including popular titles like "The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)," "How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)" and “Nothing But the Truth.” In addition to his work in film, Bailey featured in multiple documentaries and television series about the civil rights movement, such as “Before the Memories Fade: Voices from the Civil Rights Movement.”
Bailey also served for 19 years as a U.S. Circuit Judge. During his career, he wrote two books. The first is titled Mine Eyes Have Seen: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Journey. His second book is titled The Education of a Black Radical: A Southern Civil Rights Activist’s Journey, 1959–1964. With such a rich legacy, D’Army Bailey continues to inspire all of us to do the right thing.
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