This is the ninth in a series of posts spotlighting recently released email from Governor Tim Kaine’s administration. These posts are not meant to be comprehensive but to encourage further exploration in the Kaine administration records (electronic and paper).
On Tuesday, 23 June, a portrait on loan from the University of Richmond of civil rights activist and attorney Oliver Hill (1907-2007) will be unveiled at the Virginia Executive Mansion. Larissa Smith Ferguson wrote in the Encyclopedia Virginia that as the lead attorney for the Virginia State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) “Hill and his colleagues filed more legal challenges to segregation than any other lawyers in the South and successfully undermined segregation and discrimination in all walks of southern life.” The mansion was also the location of a more somber event during Governor Tim Kaine’s administration (2006-2010): Hill’s viewing was held there on 11 August 2007. His funeral took place the next day at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. The Kaine email collection tells the story of these events.
Oliver Hill was a hero and inspiration to Tim Kaine. He first learned about Hill while attending the University of Missouri where he read Richard Kluger’s Simple Justice, a history of desegregation. “The example of Mr. Hill and the other courageous lawyers of the era,” Kaine wrote in an August 2007 op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “became a powerful influence on my life. I decided to go to law school and become a civil rights lawyer.” After Kaine moved to Richmond in 1984, he “came to know Oliver Hill not just as a hero in books, but as a flesh and blood person. That has been one of the great joys of my life.” Hill was also a confidant of Kaine’s father-in-law, former Virginia Governor Linwood Holton (1970-1974).
Governor Kaine was on vacation with his family (and the Holtons) when Chief of Staff Wayne Turnage emailed him on Sunday 5 August 2007 at 12:13 P.M. that Hill had died in Richmond. Within an hour, Press Secretary Kevin Hall drafted a statement on Hill’s passing for the governor’s approval. Kaine made a few minor edits and rewrote the final paragraph. “I should mention that this news has a big impact on the Holton family, who are all with me on vacation,” Kaine emailed Turnage and Communication Director Delacey Skinner. “Linwood and Oliver were dear friends because of their work together in the desegregation of Virginia schools. Anne’s brother Dwight named his oldest son Terrence Oliver Holton in honor of Mr. Hill.”
Kaine was scheduled to return from vacation on the following Saturday. Kaine asked Turnage to keep him informed of funeral arrangements in case he decided to cut his vacation short and attend. Turnage emailed Kaine at 4:11 P.M. to ask if he should speak to the family “about the possibility of having the remains of oliver hill [sic] lay in-state at the mansion[?]” Kaine agreed and the Hill family accepted the offer on 6 August. Hill would lay in-state on Saturday, 11 August with the funeral the next day. “I will talk to you later,” Kaine emailed Turnage on 6 August at 8:19 A.M., “about whether we adjust our plans to possibly fly home Friday instead of making the long drive on Saturday.” Kaine quickly decided to return early to attend the funeral.
On 6 August the Richmond Times-Dispatch asked Kaine if he would write an op-ed piece celebrating the life of Oliver Hill. The next day, the Hill family asked Kaine if he “would consider delivering the eulogy rather than make a few remarks.” Kaine said yes to both. He completed the op-ed on Thursday, 9 August and it was published 12 August. Kaine began writing the eulogy on Saturday, 11 August and finished it the next morning.
In his eulogy, Kaine focused on what Hill meant to Virginia and the nation. He concluded with this observation and challenge to us all:
Oliver Hill reminded Virginians of something dear to all Virginians. “All men are created equal.” This wasn’t new. It flows directly from “love thy neighbor as thyself.” It was written into the Declaration of Independence by the most famous of all Virginians, Thomas Jefferson. Every public official who ever voted for a discriminatory law, every judge who ever ruled that discrimination was acceptable, virtually every citizen who supported segregation knew from their earliest days of schooling that our country was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” But, America had to be reminded to live that way. Oliver Hill reminded us.
I believe that was the genius of Oliver Hill. He was a creative thinker—if you read his book “The Big Bang” and wrestle with his concepts of “progressive evolution” and “utopian societies” you will see that his mind was not stuck in the past. But, he also knew that, while there are new thoughts, ideas and challenges—there are also timeless values, values that people understand at some level, and the way to get to a brighter future was to tap into those timeless values with confidence that people would come to realize that there is a better way to live. He never stopped doing this.
So, Mr. Hill’s life reminds us to ask some basic and difficult questions. Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Do we show mercy to those in need? In this world, in this nation, in this city, in this room—there are people who need and deserve our love. Will we live that way?
Do we really believe that “all” are created equal? Regardless of race or religion or nationality or sex or orientation or income? We say we believe it. Our Commonwealth and nation claim to be based on it. Will we live that way?
Mr. Hill brought Virginia into the future by reminding us of old and timeless wisdom. He accomplished more than anyone in the last century in this Commonwealth, but his work isn’t done. His life stands here as a shining example, but—appropriate to the man—his life also serves as a loving challenge.
Are we up to it?
The Library of Virginia’s Kaine Email Project makes the email records from the administration of Governor Timothy M. Kaine, Virginia’s 70th governor (2006–2010), accessible online. Users can search and view email records from the Governor’s Office and his cabinet secretaries; learn about other public records from the Kaine Administration; go behind the scenes to see how the Library of Virginia made the email records available; and read what others are saying about the collection. Previous posts spotlighted personal stories, transportation, the state budget and the Kaine records officers. This project would not have been possible without funding provided by Congress for the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA).