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Elmo Willard, III, Papers

Identifier: AC-109

Scope and Content Note

The Elmo Willard, III Papers primarily hold papers related to Willard’s legal career. Correspondence and court documents from Willard’s civil rights cases make up a large portion of the collection. Also included are early twentieth century land records and warranty deeds from the Beaumont area.

As a prominent civil rights lawyer, Willard received many awards and commendations during his career, which are held in the collection. His papers also include invitations to the presidential inaugurations of Presidents John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. The collections also holds biographical information and photographs.


  • Creation: 1887-1991


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Access Restrictions

Some restrictions may apply.


The Tyrrell Historical Library holds copyright for papers created by Willard. Exceptions include published works, for which copyright is retained by the creators and/or publishers. The researcher must secure permission to publish. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to the Tyrrell Historical Library. The researcher assumes full responsibility for complying with copyright, literary property rights, and libel laws.

Biographical Note

Elmo Willard, III, was born on September 14, 1930, in Beaumont, Texas. His parents were Elmo Willard, Jr., a local mortician, and Faye Durden Willard, a schoolteacher. His grandfather was Elmo Willard, Sr., who was born on the Old Calder Plantation at Eleventh Street on August 19, 1867. Elmo, Sr.,’s parents, Riley and Margaret, were former slaves.

Elmo, Sr., started working various jobs at age eight, after his father died, and eventually was employed at the Old Long and Company Shingle Mill. He also opened up his own barber shop, bought real estate, built rental houses, and invested in business. He sat on juries in Beaumont, and was one of the earliest donors to the fund that founded the South Texas State Fair. He married Sarah J. Adams, daughter of Captain Elisha Adams, at age 31, and they had eight children.

Elmo Willard, III, graduated from Charlton-Pollard High School in 1947, and then entered Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Business Administration in 1951, with minors in History and Psychology. He then attended law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Howard University Law School played a crucial role in the desegregation law cases of the 1950's. Thurgood Marshall and Robert Carter would test their civil rights cases in the mock courts held by students at Howard. Indeed, Marshall tested his Brown v. Board of Education (1954) arguments at Howard during Willard’s final year there. Willard was chief of the Student Critique Team which analyzed Marshall’s case. Willard graduated third in his class from Howard in 1954.

Returning to Beaumont, he began to practice law with Theodore R. Johns, and they helped lead Beaumont’s civil rights movement. They achieved their first major victory with the case Fayson v. Beard (1955), which desegregated Beaumont’s public parks. They followed this success by winning another major case, Jackson v. McDonald (1956), which desegregated Lamar State College of Technology (today, Lamar University). Lamar’s admission of its first black students sparked two weeks of picketing by whites in favor of segregation, and Willard’s and John’s offices were vandalized.

Willard and Johns also freed and represented blacks who had been arrested for conducting sit-ins at whites-only restaurants and lunch counters in Beaumont. Willard considered these to be his “most gratifying experiences.”

In 1981, Willard and Clayton Mayfield, arguing on behalf of the black Citizens Action Committee, won their case on the question of desegregation of the South Park Independent School District.

Willard also filed successful cases to prevent employment discrimination against black men, who often were placed in the lowest-paying jobs in a company. Such cases were filed against Jefferson Chemical Company, Goodrich and Goodyear Chemical Companies, Gulf States Utilities, Pure Oil, Temple-Eastex, and Bethlehem Steel.

Willard died on April 5, 1991. He is buried in Live Oak Memorial Park in Beaumont.


5 Cubic Feet (5 cubic feet in six boxes)


Elmo Willard, III, was a leader of Beaumont's civil rights movement. He and his law partner, Theodore Johns, won cases for the desegregation of Beaumont's public parks and Lamar University. These papers include correspondence, legal documents, news clippings, and photographs.

Organization of Collection

This collection is organized into six boxes. The first three boxes contain documents related to Willard's legal career, while the last three boxes hold awards and commendations received by Willard.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Patricia Willard, 1991 August.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

Theodore and Lamar Johns Collection, AC-278, Tyrrell Historical Library, Beaumont, Texas.

Separated Material


Processing Information

Processed by Tyrrell Historical Library staff, 1991.

Finding aid revised and encoded by Tyrrell Historical Library staff, 2014 June.

Finding Aid for the Elmo Willard, III, Papers, 1887-1991
Tyrrell Historical Library Staff
2014 June 09
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Tyrrell Historical Library Archives Repository