This is the "Biographical Sketch" page of the "Legal Papers of Dallas Nicholas and William Gosnell" guide.
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Legal Papers of Dallas Nicholas and William Gosnell   Tags: special collections  

Information on an archival collection of the business and legal papers of two twentieth century African American attorneys, Dallas Nicholas and William Gosnell. Finding aid is available for onsite use only.
Last Updated: Oct 5, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Biographical Sketch Print Page


Nicolas and Gosnell were both active in the civil rights movement in Maryland and Baltimore. William I. Gosnell worked closely with Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP in the case of University v. Murray, 169 Md. 478 (1936), which desegregated the University of Maryland School of Law. In 1934, Gosnell met Donald G. Murray, a graduate of Amherst College, and introduced him to Thurgood Marshall as a potential plaintiff. Murray had applied to the University of Maryland School of Law and been rejected based on his race. Murray subsequently appeared with Gosnell, Thurgood Marshall, and Charles Houston to challenge Maryland's exclusionary policy before a Baltimore City judge who ordered the law school to admit Murray immediately.

May 3, 1949 letter on Monumental Golf Club letterhead from William Dixon to Dallas Nicholas enclosing tickets to BBQOne of Dallas Nicholas' major contributions to the fight for civil rights and equality (documented in this collection) concerns the equality of recreational facilities in Baltimore, specifically golf courses. Both Nicholas and Gosnell belonged to an organization called the Monumental Golf Club, which consisted of a diverse group of African Americans, including attorneys, doctors, teachers, and teens. In 1934, the Monumental Golf Club became frustrated with the poorly-maintained, nine-hole course that was assigned to African Americans. Dallas Nicholas, acting as the Monumental Golf Club's attorney, initiated a legal battle with the Baltimore Board of Recreation and Parks that would span two decades and culminate in Boyer v. Garrett, 183 F.2d 582 (4th Cir. 1950).

In 1936, after two years of battling the Board, Nicholas and the Monumental Golf Club achieved some success when the Board agreed to grant African Americans exclusive use of the 18-hole Carroll Course. Being awarded an 18-hole course of their own wasn't the end of the battle for Nicholas and the Monumental Golf Club; now they fought for equality in the conditions of their course and the upkeep of the guest house as well as the right for racially integrated play on those links. That fight and its resulting gains were well worth it for the Monumental Golf Club and Baltimore's African American golfers, who were very active in both the sport and in Baltimore society. This can be seen in the Monumental Golf Club Schedule for the year 1938, which is part of the collection. Adult men and women as well as teen golfers were active from April through October, holding lessons, tournaments, and hosting African American golfers from other cities.

Like other attorneys in Baltimore, both Nicholas and Gosnell joined city, state, and national bar associations to keep abreast of changes in the field, as well as to network with colleagues. Because African Americans could not participate in the same professional organizations as whites they created their own. The National Bar Association, of which both Nicholas and Gosnell were members, was one such group.

African American attorneys in Baltimore had their own association as well. The Monumental City Bar Association (MCBA) began in the mid-1930s and was very active in the community. The MCBA would join together with other organizations to host events, such as its 18th Annual Convention held at the Masonic Temple in Baltimore, November of 1946. Both Dallas Nicholas and William Gosnell took an active role in the planning and implementation of this event. African American attorneys from across the nation attended, including Raymond Pace Alexander, Charles H. Houston, and Thurgood Marshall.

By the mid-1940s, the Gosnell and Nicholas firm was ready to expand. After communication with other African American attorneys and community leaders, they decided upon Cambridge, Maryland. This office was a successful venture. Both attorneys shuttled back and forth between Baltimore, where they maintained the bulk of their work, and the Eastern Shore, for the remainder of their professional lives.

Unfortunately, one area that is not well reflected in the legal files presented here is the business records of Nicholas and Gosnell. While there is a great deal of documentation about the costs incurred for a particular case or issue, there is little in the way of documentation about the overall firm organization, its income or expenses.

The partnership ended in 1966 with the death of Dallas Nicholas (see the Afro American Newspaper, October 8, 1966). William Gosnell passed away in 1978 (see the Afro American Newspaper, April 1, 1978).


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