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Walter Arthur Gordon (October 10, 1894 – April 2, 1976) was the first African American to receive a doctorate of law from UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall law school. He had an extremely long and varied career where he served as a police officer, lawyer, assistant football coach, member of the California Adult Authority, Governor of the United States Virgin Islands, and a Federal District Judge.

Walter Gordon
Photo of W.A. Gordon
Judge of the United States District Court of the Virgin Islands
In office
Appointed byDwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded byHerman Moore
Succeeded byAlmeric Christian
18th Governor of the United States Virgin Islands
In office
October 17, 1955 – September 25, 1958
LieutenantJohn David Merwin
Preceded byCharles Claunch (Acting)
Succeeded byJohn David Merwin
Personal details
Walter Arthur Gordon

(1894-10-10)October 10, 1894
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
DiedApril 2, 1976(1976-04-02) (aged 81)
Piedmont, California, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Fisher
EducationUniversity of California, Berkeley (BA, JD)

Early life and educationEdit

Gordon was born in Atlanta, Georgia, though his family moved to Riverside, California in 1904. He graduated from Riverside Polytechnic High School before enrolling in the University of California, Berkeley, where he lettered in football (as a lineman for the California Golden Bears), boxing, and wrestling.

Gordon was the star of Cal's boxing team, winning the California State Championship. He was the star of Cal's wrestling team, winning the California State Championship in that sport as well. He was also a star on Andy Smith's early Cal football teams, playing on both the offensive and defensive lines. In fact, during his Cal football career, at one time or another he played every position on both lines except center. At 6'0" and 200 pounds, he was one of the biggest men on the team, but with tremendous quickness, and an instinct for knowing where to be on the field.

He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He was also a founding member of the Alpha Epsilon chapter at University of California, Berkeley.

In 1918 he became one of the first two African-American All-Americans (the first was Paul Robeson). He was later named to the College Football Hall of Fame.[1] He graduated in 1918 and enrolled in Boalt Hall to study law. He married Mary Elizabeth Fisher on July 22, 1920[2][3] and received his law degree in 1922.

Careers in CaliforniaEdit

In 1919, Gordon began two of his careers: he was hired as a scout and part-time assistant coach of the Golden Bears and joined the police force in Berkeley, California. In 1922, he began his third career and opened a law office in Oakland, California. He continued all three jobs until 1930, when he retired from the police force. He was branch president of the Berkeley NAACP in the 1930s. During the Zoot Suit Riots of Los Angeles in 1943 there were clashes between Mexican American youths and servicemen. Governor Earl Warren sent a team, headed by Walter Gordon, to Los Angeles to evaluate the conflict. Later in 1943, he retired as the assistant coach to join the California Adult Authority, that state's parole board, and eventually became chairman, serving for nine years. In 1944, he retired from law.

Careers in the United States Virgin IslandsEdit

In 1955, while still working for the Adult Authority, he was appointed Governor of the United States Virgin Islands. That same year, he was named as UC Berkeley alumnus of the year and received the Benjamin Ide Wheeler Medal.[4] In 1958, he resigned as Governor to take an appointment as a Federal Judge of the District Court of the Virgin Islands, where he served for 10 years.[3]


  1. ^ "Walter Gordon Member Biography". Hall of Famers. National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved April 14, 2010.
  2. ^ "New 'First Lady' of Virgin Islands says she admires Islanders". Baltimore Afro-American. October 11, 1955. p. 3. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Gordon, Walter (et al., Interviewees) (1976–1979). "John D. Merwin: Self-recorded interview". Athlete, Officer in Law Enforcement and Administration, Governor of the Virgin Islands: oral history transcript / Walter Gordon. Interviewed by Anne Hus Brower, Caryn Prince, Rosemary Levenson & Amelia R. Fry. Berkeley, California: Bancroft Library. Regional Oral History Office. pp. 621 p. (Vols. 1–2). Retrieved April 14, 2010.
  4. ^ Benjamin Ide Wheeler Medal- Retrieved 2018-07-31
  • Shuster, Alvin (October 8, 1955). "New Governor of Virgin Islands Is Sworn In by the Chief Justice". New York Times. New York. p. 9.
  • Finn, Gary (April 6, 1976). "Obituary: Walter A. Gordon of the Virgin Islands". New York Times. New York. p. 36.
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Claunch
Governor of the United States Virgin Islands
Succeeded by
John David Merwin
Legal offices
Preceded by
Herman Moore
Judge of the United States District Court of the Virgin Islands
Succeeded by
Almeric Christian