Civil Rights Pioneer’s Papers Donated to University of Texas-Permian Basin

Viola Coleman, a physician from Midland, Texas, died in 2005. Her estate has donated her papers to the University of Texas at Permian Basin in Odessa. Dr. Coleman’s papers are historically significant. In the mid-1940s, Coleman, a graduate of Southern University, sought admission to the medical school at Louisiana State University. She was rejected because of her race. Thurgood Marshall, the lead counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, took the case to federal court but was unsuccessful. Coleman later obtained her medical training at Meharry Medical College, the historically black school in Nashville.

Many of Coleman’s papers deal with her effort to gain admission to the LSU medical school. Some of the other papers are revealing in that they show the difficulty a young black woman faced in establishing a medical practice in the Jim Crow South.

A long-time civil rights activist, Dr. Coleman was instrumental in desegregating hospitals and the public school system in Midland, Texas. A high school in the city is now named in her honor.