James T.V. Hill

James T.V. Hill
(10/27/1854 – 2/20/1928)

Born and raised in Chillicothe, a small town in south central Ohio, James Thomas Vastine Hill came to Indianapolis in 1874 when he was 20. Upon his arrival, he took jobs as a mail clerk and barber in order to work his way through Central Law School. He was the first Black person to enroll in the school, and even before he became the first Black student to graduate, he had become the first Black attorney in Marion County, having been admitted to the bar on January 22, 1879.

But as enumerated on his tombstone, these were just the first of his firsts:

  • James T.V. Hill
  • “…the Dean of Negro Lawyers.”
  • First African-American admitted to the Circuit Court of Indianapolis Bar, 1879
  • First African-American to enroll and graduate from Central Law School of Indianapolis, 1882
  • First Practicing African-American Attorney in Marion County, 1882-1928
  • First African-American to serve on the Marion County Grand Jury, 1890
  • Marion County Deputy Prosecutor, 1911-1915

On June 15, 1889, an ad in the Freeman, a leading Black newspaper of the day, announced: “Messrs. A.E. Manning and J.T.V. Hill have just opened an office at 18 1/2 North Pennsylvania (Room 5) for the purpose of conducting a general real estate and rental agency. They will also make a specialty of collecting bills, loaning and securing loans of money, paying taxes, securing employment, also Notary Public and legal business of any kind will be attended to.”

Even before the little ad ran in 1889, Hill had been making a name for himself in local Democratic politics at a time when most Black people despised the Democratic Party. Just displaying a picture of Grover Cleveland, the 1888 Democratic presidential candidate, in a window of his home resulted in it being egged and windows being broken. Not all the adversity he met came from fellow Black people as Hill met racism head-on as well. In 1890, he was one of a group of five Black people who decided to go to court to test the 1885 Indiana Civil Rights Act. In a case reminiscent of more recent times, the men went into a restaurant in downtown Indianapolis to eat lunch.

When they were refused service, they promptly served the restaurant owner with a lawsuit. The court found in their favor, and the restaurant was fined $50.

Family members helped to dedicate James T.V. Hill’s monument on May 29, 1998

Hill continued to practice law until his death at age 73 from double pneumonia in 1928. In addition to his law practice, Hill was also a member of several civic organizations and attended Simpson Methodist Episcopal Church. The J.T.V. Hill Recreation Center and Park located in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood at 1806 North Columbia Avenue is named in his honor.

Highlights from his eulogy read: “On the 20th day of February, 1928, James T.V. Hill died. At that time he had been 40 years a lawyer in Marion County, Indiana. We called him the dean of Negro lawyers. His life as a lawyer was an early effort of Black citizens to express and reveal themselves with credit in the higher walks of life. … He was engaged in the general practice of the law but interested himself most deeply in the law of domestic relations. … [He was] a champion of child rights [and] he was a champion of women’s rights. Fully half of his time was given to this phase of law practice without compensation. … We are living at a time when there is much talk about an effort at improvement of race relations in America. No person has as fine an opportunity as the Negro in law practice to improve or impair race relations. Let it be said emphatically that the decedent never impaired race relations, but that he improved them. James T.V. Hill, the pioneer Negro in the law practice at the Marion County, Indiana Bar, is still the trailblazer. He has launched his bark upon the sea of immortality. We must follow him. If we do so with credit we must carry before the Great Judge Eternal greater achievements because he lived.”

The graves for Hill and his wife Sarah remained unmarked until the Marion County Bar Association dedicated a polished black granite monument honoring them on May 29, 1998. The school books and apple symbolize his wife’s 40 years as an Indianapolis Public School teacher.

Additional information can be found here.

Location: Section 35, Lot 160; GPS (39.8202754,-86.1677647)