Westley Wallace Law was born in Savannah, Georgia, on January 1, 1923, the only son and oldest child of Geneva Wallace and Westley Law. W.W. Law was a crusader for justice and the civil rights of African Americans. He served as president of the Savannah chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1950 to 1976 and came to be widely known as “Mr. Civil Rights.”
In high school, as a member of the NAACP Youth Council, Law protested segregation at Savannah’s Grayson Stadium and worked for the hiring of a Black disc jockey at a white-owned local radio station. He began attending Georgia State Industrial College (now Savannah State University) in 1942, where he served as president of the NAACP Youth Council. He worked at the White YMCA in Savannah to finance his education. After completing his freshman year, Law was drafted into the army to serve in World War II. Upon his discharge, the GI Bill paid for the rest of his education at Georgia State College where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Law served for many years as the scoutmaster of Troop 49, First Bryan Baptist Church, where he also taught Sunday school. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier for more than 40 years before retiring in the 1990s. Law was fired from his job at the U.S. Post Office in 1961 because of his civil rights activities. National NAACP leaders and President John F. Kennedy came to his defense, however, and a three-member appeals board reinstated him.
In 1950, Law became president of the Savannah NAACP. In 1962, he and others brought a lawsuit against the segregation of Savannah–Chatham County Public Schools before the U.S. District Court. After many delays, Law and the NAACP refiled, and in 1964 the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered public schools in Savannah desegregated. In the 1960s Law led weekly mass meetings at two Savannah churches, Bolton Street Baptist and St. Philip A.M.E., where he advocated passive resistance to segregation. He also led protests at the segregated Azalea Room lunch counter at Levy’s department store in downtown Savannah. Law led wade-ins at Tybee Beach and sit-ins at Kress and Woolworth’s lunch counters with NAACP youth workers. He also led an eighteen-month boycott of Broughton Street merchants that forced Savannah’s White leaders to compromise on civil rights.
Law retired as Savannah NAACP president in 1976, after serving 26 years. He then became heavily involved in the preservation of African-American history and historic buildings. He established the Savannah-Yamacraw Branch of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH). As president of ASALH, he established the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum, Negro Heritage Trail Tour, King-Tisdell Cottage Museum, and the Beach Institute of African American Culture.
Law received honorary doctorates from Savannah College of Art and Design (1997) and Savannah State University (2000), the Distinguished Georgian Award (1998) from the Center for the Study of Georgia History at Augusta State University, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Preservation Award (2001), and the Governor’s Award in the Humanities (1992).
W.W. Law died in Savannah on July 28, 2002, at age 79, and he is buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery South in Savannah. In 2021, the W.W. Law Fund was established at the Georgia Historical Society by Larry and Brenda Thompson, ensuring that Mr. Law’s commitment to Georgia history will continue in perpetuity.