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The Gainsboro History Project

A.J. Oliver  (1862-1947)

Andrew Jackson Oliver was born in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 1862 during the Civil War. His father was a servant and janitor at Virginia Tech and could not read or write. A.J. Oliver attended Schafer Institute in Christiansburg, Virginia, and moved to Ironton, Ohio, to further his education. In 1886 he passed the bar exam in Summers County, West Virginia, and became one of the first Black lawyers in West Virginia.

A.J. Oliver moved to Roanoke in 1889 and was admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1890. He was the first Black attorney in Roanoke. He lived at 167 High Street, in Gainsboro, with his wife, Susie, a teacher. His office was in the Pinkard Drug Building on Salem Avenue. Often, he would preach at St. Paul Methodist Church, and he was an active member of the Freemasons, Odd Fellows, and Knights of Pythias. He was said to be a trusted go-between among Black and White citizens in matters of race relations.

A.J. Oliver spent his life advancing civil rights in Virginia. In 1900 he was a delegate to the Virginia Conference of Colored Men convention in Charlottesville. They met to petition the state for racial equality and justice, especially with respect to education. Two years later, he led a group of black Roanoke citizens protesting a decision of the school board to use only white teachers in black schools.

“Among the most accomplished and successful lawyers in Virginia must be mentioned Andrew Jackson Oliver of Roanoke City. A visit to his office discloses a large and well selected library, the contents of which he has mastered in a marked degree, as is shown by his depth of knowledge, range of vision and clarity of statement, upon almost every subject and particularly upon the science of law.”

History of the American Negro (1921), p. 449.

Black and white portrait of A.J. Oliver in a suit
A. J. Oliver. Photo Credit: From “History of the American Negro and His Institutions” by Arthur Brunyan Caldwell, 1921.

See Also


Kittridge, K. (2006, Feb. 19). A. J. Oliver, a legal trailblazer. The Roanoke Times.

Meeting of colored men, the Virginia conference meets here at 12pm. (1900, August 22-23). The Daily Progress. Charlottesville, VA.

Caldwell, A. B. (Ed.),(1921). History of the American Negro. Virginia Edition. A. B. Caldwell Publishing Co.