Descendants of Delaware County’s first Black law firm unveil plaque

The family of Delaware County’s very first Black legal professional, William Henry Ridley, joined county judges and dignitaries on Plum Road in Media on Wednesday to memorialize him in a community way so that his legacy carries on.

“The superior thing is this plaque will be below each individual time everyone walks up and down Front Avenue,” attorney and Ridley wonderful-terrific-grandson Enrique Latoison mentioned. “They’ll be in a position to see it at any time.”

His law agency, Latoison Law, is suitable off Entrance Avenue at 8 Plum St. On Wednesday, a plaque honoring Ridley embedded in his setting up was unveiled.

Attorney Enrique Latoison welcomes the crowd at the unveiling of a plaque for William Henry Ridley in Media. Latoison is Ridley's great-great-grandson. (KATHLEEN E. CAREY - DAILY TIMES)
Legal professional Enrique Latoison welcomes the crowd at the unveiling of a plaque for William Henry Ridley in Media. Latoison is Ridley’s excellent-good-grandson. (KATHLEEN E. CAREY – Day-to-day Instances)

“Mr. Ridley was a greater-than-everyday living character,” Dr. Sam Lemon, Ridley’s great-grandson, explained. “Although he handed absent right before I was born, I often thought of him my hero. I desired to model myself just after him.”

Lemon put in some 35 yrs studying Ridley and the circumstance of Alexander McClay Williams, and he continue to life in Ridley’s Olive Road property.

“His mothers and fathers arrived in Media during the Civil War as runaway slaves,” Lemon reported, noting that of the 4 million people in bondage in 1860, only 1% productively escaped.

Following becoming housed by Quakers from the Providence Good friends Conference, the spouse and children sooner or later moved into the Minshall Home at Front Street and Providence Road. There, Ridley was born in 1867.

Dr. Sam Lemon talks about William Henry Ridley's defense of Alexander McClay Williams 90 years ago. (KATHLEEN E. CAREY - DAILY TIMES)
Dr. Sam Lemon talks about William Henry Ridley’s defense of Alexander McClay Williams 90 decades back. (KATHLEEN E. CAREY – Every day Instances)

“He was sickly as a child,” Lemon claimed. “It affected his vision so he wore eyeglasses the relaxation of his everyday living.”

Ridley graduated with honors from Media Public Superior Faculty in 1887.

“Beginning that year, he study law,” Lemon stated. “That was the a lot more typical practice as opposed to attending legislation college. He study law in the business office of Louis H. Richards … He turned the initial member of color of the Delaware County Bar in 1891.”

Lemon observed that the subsequent Black member of the bar affiliation was a Wilmington, Del., gentleman named Byrd in the 1940’s, who was followed by the subsequent, Richard A. Wright Sr., in 1960.

Lemon reported Wright recalled Ridley: “Whenever he arrived to the home, Mr. Ridley would be in the dwelling room with a regulation e-book in his hand and a jacket and tie.”

Recalling his ancestor’s patriotism, Lemon pointed out that Ridley enlisted in the Military during the Spanish American War but the war ended right before he was sent to Cuba. So, he pushed his age back again so that he served for the duration of Planet War I.

McClay Williams make a difference

“Ridley experienced a outstanding law observe that spanned 54 several years,” Lemon mentioned, including that it was tales in his grandmother’s household of the Alexander McClay Williams situation that led him to spend much more than three a long time investigating it.

Williams, who was Black, was sentenced to death by Delaware County Court docket of Frequent Pleas Decide W. Roger Fronefield soon after becoming convicted by an all-white jury with the assault and murder of 34-12 months-outdated white girl Vida Robare at the Glen Mills College for Boys on Oct. 3, 1930.

On June 8, 1931, he was executed.

In June 2022, Courtroom of Widespread Pleas Decide Kevin F. Kelly granted a motion for a new trial for Williams, then immediately ordered a motion to withdraw all expenses in opposition to him.

Attorney Robert Keller worked with Lemon and the Williams spouse and children in that issue.

“It’s just ungodly what took place below,” he mentioned. “Ridley was requested to be the legal professional for this boy for the reason that he was the only African American law firm in our county. He was provided $10 in charges, a $200 charge for this cash murder case, supplied 60 times to prepare for a murder situation.”

This plaque honors Delaware County's first Black attorney. (KATHLEEN E. CAREY- DAILY TIMES)
This plaque honors Delaware County’s to start with Black legal professional. (KATHLEEN E. CAREY- Daily Periods)

He famous the scales of justice were not in favor of Williams or Ridley.

“Ridley there was by himself trying to defend this minimal boy,” Keller claimed. “His hands were being tied driving his again. He didn’t have a probability. The demo lasted about 8 hours. Within just 60 days of the arrest, the boy experienced been forced to give confessions and was convicted of very first-diploma murder and then set to demise in just 6 months of the demo.”

Keller called the energy the highlight of his job.

There ended up other stories about Ridley and his braveness.

“He confronted a group of KKK klansmen who showed up in his yard carrying torches and carrying hoods one particular evening,” Lemon mentioned. “They were hunting for somebody that they mistakenly considered was in the home, but he stood up to them.”

Lemon reported he thanks Ridley each individual day for currently being his ancestor.

The legal professional handed away in 1945.

‘Legacy is important’

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, who also lobbied to have Williams’ title cleared, termed Ridley a trailblazer.

“His lifestyle was tough,” he explained. “His apply was hard. He was provided an impossible situation to established him up for failure.”

Stollsteimer praised Kelly and led a spherical of applause for his steps involving Williams.

“It was Decide Kelly who gave us the grounds to overturn this conviction and it was his choice to vacate that sentence and only he could do that,” the district legal professional mentioned. “That speaks volumes of him as a human remaining. It also speaks volumes of the individuals we have on our bench in Delaware County.”

The district legal professional noted Ridley’s inspiration: “A lot of us wouldn’t be lawyers if it wasn’t for people today like William Ridley.”

Attorney Robert Keller addressed the crowd at the unveiling of a plaque for William Henry Ridley. (KATHLEEN E. CAREY - DAILY TIMES)
Legal professional Robert Keller dealt with the crowd at the unveiling of a plaque for William Henry Ridley. (KATHLEEN E. CAREY – Everyday Times)

Latoison stated a lesson he has garnered from his good-terrific-grandfather is preserving the earlier.

“Legacy is important and legacy issues,” he explained.

He shared how he grew up in Chester, graduated from Chester Higher School and planned to get a position at Pink Lobster as a substitute of likely to school. Even as time passed, he often realized his relation to Ridley.

“I was fairly damn happy of it,” he stated. “It just kind of kept me with some path.”

A long time later on, Latoison, motivated in element by his household relation, graduated regulation faculty at the age of 30.

“A legacy is essential,” he stated from the techniques of his regulation business, wherever the Ridley plaque now stands. “You never ever know what inspiration that is which will aid someone like myself who was shed to get to that next amount.”

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