Thursday, January 29, 2015

George Barrett | Civil rights lawyer, 86

George Barrett, 86, a longtime Tennessee civil rights lawyer known for handling a case that ultimately desegregated the state's public colleges and universities, died Tuesday at a hospital where he was being treated for inflammation of the pancreas.

In a career that spanned more than 50 years, Mr. Barrett also represented corporate whistle-blowers, fought for labor rights, and tackled securities fraud, partners at his Nashville law firm said.

He is perhaps best known as the attorney who filed suit in 1968 for then-Tennessee State University instructor Rita Geier, who accused the state of operating a dual system of higher education for minorities.

Geier, then 23, filed the lawsuit over the University of Tennessee's plans to develop a Nashville campus. She feared that it would become a predominantly white school and that historically black Tennessee State would suffer. The case dragged on for 38 years, and the state ultimately agreed to provide millions of dollars to diversify public colleges and universities.

Mr. Barrett also became involved in politics, working at one point for Democratic Tennessee Congressman Carey Estes Kefauver and Al Gore Sr.

Gore's son, former Vice President Al Gore, said that Mr. Barrett was close to his family and that he had learned a lot from him. Said Gore: "He was a beacon of progressive politics for three generations of Tennesseans." - AP

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