Manchester Courthouse renamed to honor Henry and Harold Marsh

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 5/26/2016, 6:50 a.m.
Civil rights was central to the law firm that Henry L. Marsh III organized with the late legal giants Oliver ...
From left, Harold M. Marsh Jr. and Dr. Erica Marsh, the children of Harold M. Marsh Sr.; Henry L. Marsh III; and Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones stand in front of the new sign outside the courthouse at 920 Hull St. The South Richmond courthouse was renamed last Friday in honor of Mr. Marsh and his brother, Harold M. Marsh Sr., who died in 1997. Photo by Sandra Sellars

Civil rights was central to the law firm that Henry L. Marsh III organized with the late legal giants Oliver W. Hill Sr. and Samuel W. Tucker.

The firm spearheaded the fight to enforce the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision banning segregated public schools by engaging in more than 50 suits against school districts.

Mr. Marsh, who was joined at the firm by his younger brother, the late Harold M. Marsh Sr., also battled racial discrimination in employment and successfully forced Virginia to adopt single-member legislative districts, opening the door to the election of more African-Americans to the General Assembly.

So when the courthouse at 920 Hull St. in Richmond’s South Side formally was renamed last Friday the Henry L. Marsh III and Harold M. Marsh Sr. Manchester Courthouse, many in the audience nodded in agreement when Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott called it fitting.

“It is fitting that a courthouse, a symbol of equal rights under the law, is being named for two brothers who spent their legal careers fighting for civil rights,” Congressman Scott said. “Thank you for making this necessary.”

More than 150 people attended the outdoor ceremony, including about 40 Marsh family members, an array of judges, state and local elected and appointed officials, candidates for office, former law firm staffers, friends and well-wishers.

Speakers praising the role the Marsh brothers played in shaping Richmond included U.S. District Court Judge Raymond A. Jackson of Norfolk, one of the 13 lawyers from the law firm who went on to become judges; Helivi L. Holland, president of the Old Dominion Bar Association; and Vernon E. Inge, president of the Richmond Bar Association.

With Judge D. Eugene Cheek Sr., the chief judge of Richmond General District Court, presiding, the ceremony was punctuated by lighthearted, but reflective remarks from Mr. Marsh, now 82, and poignant recollections by Harold Marsh’s son, Harold Marsh Jr.

Harold Marsh was fatally shot in 1997 about a mile west of the renamed courthouse by an embittered defendant in an eviction case. For Harold Marsh Jr., who was joined at the podium by his sister, Dr. Erica Marsh, the ceremony was bittersweet. He and his sister, who now live in Chicago, had not returned to the courthouse since the trial of the man charged with killing their father.

He spoke of his father’s commitment to the law and to helping others.

“He wasn’t one to seek the spotlight. He only sought the work that needed to be done,” he said.

While Harold Marsh served as a substitute judge and became well known as a mentor and supporter at Richmond’s Thomas Jefferson High School long after his children graduated, Henry Marsh made a name for himself in politics, winning election to Richmond City Council in 1966. He became Richmond’s first African-American mayor in 1977, with the backing of four council colleagues who help form the governing body’s first African-American majority in the city’s history.

After 25 years on City Council, Mr. Marsh won election to the state Senate in 1991. After winning re-election for several terms, he resigned in 2014 and accepted an appointment by Gov. Terry McAuliffe as a commissioner of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.