Clarence M. Dunnaville, Jr., was born during the Great Depression in the city of Roanoke, Virginia and grew up during the Jim Crow era. He fought segregation as a child by refusing to use segregated toilets or to sit in the back of the bus. Determined to escape segregation, he excelled at school, skipped two grades and graduated from Lucy Addison High School in Roanoke when he was just 16. Upon graduating from High School, Dunnaville left his ancestral home in Southwest Virginia to attend college as far north as his limited funds would take him to escape segregation. He made it to Baltimore, Maryland where he attended Morgan State College. During college he was a civil rights activist and picketed segregated theaters and participated in numerous student demonstrations and sit-ins that opened lunch counters to black citizens in Baltimore, years before the North Carolina sit-ins which are generally recognized, for having been the first protests of this type. While a Morgan student, in December 1953, Thurgood Marshall, who was from Baltimore, arranged for him to see the oral arguments of Brown v. Board of Education in the United States Supreme Court. That experience inspired Dunnaville to study law and work to end racial discrimination. He studied law at Saint John’s University School of Law in Brooklyn, New York, graduating in 1957.
After graduating with honors, Dunnaville was admitted to the New York State Bar and became the first black attorney to work as an attorney for the United States Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S). In 1961, he was appointed an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York by Robert F. Kennedy. During his tenure with the United States Attorney’s office, Dunnaville was highly successful, and some of the cases he argued are still good law today (ex. United States v. Kulukundis 329 F.2d 197).
In 1965, he became the first black attorney for AT&T. Over the years Dunnaville held many important positions with AT&T in litigation, labor law, antitrust, commercial and international law, arising to the point of Senior Attorney.
Dunnaville, now a Richmond, Virginia lawyer, has devoted his life to civil rights. He served as a volunteer attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Mississippi in 1967, while on leave of absence from AT&T. While in Mississippi, seeking to enforce a black citizen’s rights, he was driven out of Marks, Mississippi by a white law enforcement official who brandished him with a shotgun, and he was subjected to many other indignities. Still active with the Lawyers' Committee today, Dunnaville received its Segal Tweed Founders Award for his lifetime achievements and devotion to fighting for civil rights.
In addition to his work in law, Dunnaville has been engaged in substantial community work. He served as the New York Executive Director of the Interracial Council for Business Opportunity (ICBO), on loan from AT&T and was involved in supporting, mentoring and helping to develop minority group entrepreneurs in New York City. While at ICBO, he was responsible for the development of the tallest skyscraper ever developed by black Americans. This building was occupied by President Clinton after his presidency.
Dunnaville also co-founded the Council of Concerned Black Executives and the Association for Integration in Management. Both organizations worked with AT&T and other major corporations to develop black executives and promote their upward mobility during the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1980, he received the Harlem New York's YWCA Black Achievers In Industry Award for his outstanding work in promoting opportunities for black Americans. In the early 1980s, Dunnaville co-founded Workshops in Business Opportunities to assist minority entrepreneurs gain business skills. Throughout the 1980s he continued to work for equality of opportunity, civil rights and justice, including seeking the freedom of Nelson Mandela and ending Apartheid in South Africa.
In 1990, ready for a change of pace, Dunnaville returned to his home state of Virginia where he continued to be an advocate for justice. He joined the small civil rights law firm of Oliver W. Hill, who was one of the trial lawyers in the Brown v. Board of Education litigation. Once back in Virginia, he became engaged in numerous activities in continuance of his lifetime work of promoting civil rights, justice and equality of opportunity for all. He became a personal friend of Oliver Hill, and Spottswood Robinson, who argued Brown v. Board of Education in the Supreme Court, and later served as a Federal Judge in Washington D.C.
Besides being a proponent of civil rights and equality, Dunnaville is also a strong environmentalist. He has handled a number of environmental cases as an attorney, one of which reached the Virginia Supreme Court. He served two four year terms as a member of the Virginia Waste Management Board, which is one of the two state boards with responsibility for overseeing the environment in Virginia. He is also a lifetime Virginia Forest Stewardship Member.
Throughout his career, Dunnaville has been recognized by numerous organizations for his work for social justice and civil rights.
He continues to devote a substantial amount of his time to projects relating to access to justice by the poor and to diversity causes. He is a member of the National Board of Directors of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Board of Governors of the Virginia State Bar Diversity Conference.
Dunnaville has committed substantial time in recent years to preserving the legacy of civil rights attorney Oliver W. Hill and his colleagues in the legal battles of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. As a founding member of the Oliver White Hill Foundation, Dunnaville led a project to purchase and restore Hill’s boyhood home in Roanoke, Virginia. He then formed a coalition to use the home to provide legal services for projects aiding the poor, as part of a practicum by third-year students at the Washington and Lee University School of Law.
Dunnaville is the author of numerous articles on law and justice. He is a life member of the NAACP, a member of Alpha Beta Boule and Omega Psi Fraternity. He is an activist for justice and legal and social reforms.