By Betsy Thorpe
Zephaniah Alexander Looby was born in the British West Indies in 1899. He immigrated to the United States in 1914. After earning a degree in law at Columbia University he was offered a position at Fisk University and first arrived in Nashville in 1926.
Looby soon earned a reputation as a respected civil rights attorney and political activist. In 1946 Z Alexander Looby and the future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall joined forces to defend twenty-three African Americans who had been charged with murder following race riots in Columbia, Tennessee. The two attorneys won acquittals for all twenty-three defendants. In 1951 Looby was elected to Nashville’s city council, becoming the first African American to serve on the council since 1911. Following the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Looby filed the first desegregation suit against the Nashville public schools and in the spring of 1960 he headed the twelve member defense team sponsored by the NAACP to represent the student protesters participating in the organized sit-ins at Nashville’s downtown lunch counters.
On March 28th 1960 Z Alexander Looby arranged the release of approximately 100 students protesters arrested following a confrontation with white students in downtown Nashville. Less than three weeks later, at 5:30 a m on April 19th a blast of dynamite destroyed the Nashville home of Z Alexander Looby.