Civil Rights Icon Rev. C. Herbert Oliver Dies at 96

In Summary

Oliver took on Alabama’s public safety commissioner and the NYC public school system during his fight for equality. 

Civil rights activist Rev. C. Herbert Oliver, who chronicled how the police tormented African Americans in Alabama and fought to reform New York City’s public school system, has died. He was 96.   

Oliver died on Nov. 30, his daughter confirmed with the New York Times. She said he was hospitalized with respiratory issues.   

Born in 1925, Oliver was the executive secretary of the Inter-Citizens Committee in Birmingham in the early 1960s and documented police brutality against the state’s Black population.   

Oliver confronted the segregationist Public Safety Commissioner T. Eugene “Bull” Connor about alleged abuses under his watch. The Inter-Citizen’s Committee documented nearly 100 cases of suspicious deaths under Connor’s command of the police force, according to the Associated Press.    

RELATED: Civil Rights Activist, Historian Timuel Black Dies at 102

According to AP, Oliver told Wheaton Magazine: “I would keep my eyes on the newspapers, and the newspaper would carry stories about people who had been beaten and arrested by policemen. I would find the victim and ask them to tell us their story. Invariably, the stories the victims would tell us were different from the stories the newspaper would put out.”   

Following his time in the South, Oliver moved to Brooklyn, where he ultimately took on NYC’s public education system when he became a local school board leader for a predominately Black area of Brooklyn.   

The board was hit with immediate ire after it decided to transfer mostly white and Jewish teachers from the school district, saying, at the time, it had the authority to do so, per reports. The backlash led to a 36-day citywide teacher’s strike in 1968.   

 “There was a lack of good education, and the teachers and principals were not from the community or invested in the students,” Oliver told the Wheaton Magazine. “We were trying to settle the unrest of the community-centered in schools.” 

He is survived by his wife Lorna, Claude, daughter Patricia and a grandson.  

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