(1899 – 1972)
The son of John Alexander and Grace Elizabeth (Joseph) Looby, Z. Alexander Looby was born in Antigua, British West Indies, on April 8, 1899. After the death of his father, young Looby departed for the United States, arriving by 1914.
Looby received a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, a Bachelor of Law degree from Columbia University, and a Doctor of Juristic Science from New York University. In 1926, the year that he received the doctorate, he came to Fisk University as assistant professor of economics and remained until 1928. Later he served brief periods as a lecturer at Fisk University and Meharry College. In 1929, Looby was admitted to the Tennessee bar He practiced law in Memphis for the next three years and met a schoolteacher named Grafta Mosby, whom he married in 1934.
Unwilling to pay the moral price demanded for Memphis, attorneys and Boss Edward H. Crump, Looby returned to Nashville. He helped to found the Kent College of Law, Nashville’s first law school for blacks since the old Central Tennessee College’s department of law (1877-1911).
When the Negro civil rights movements of World War Two began, Looby became the local leader. From 1943 to 1945, he presided over the James C. Napier Bar Association. He ran for the city council in 1940, although a white opponent beat him in a runoff election. In 1946, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hired Looby, Maurice Weaver, and Thurgood Marshall to represent the blacks of Columbia, Tennessee, who were charged with murder following the recent race riots in that town. Looby’s legal defense helped acquit twenty-three of the defendants. He criss-crossed the state in the company of other black lawyers, arguing against Jim Crowism and discrimination. Looby is credited with desegregating the Nashville Airport’s dining room and the city’s non-private golf courses.
Soon after the momentous U. S. Supreme Court decision of Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka; Kansas (1954), Looby filed a suit against the local public schools on behalf of A. Z. Kelly, a barber, whose son Robert was denied access to a nearby white school. During the sit-in demonstrations and civil rights marches of the l96Os, Looby and other black attorneys provided money and legal services for local college students who were arrested and jailed. On April 19, 1960, his Meharry Boulevard home by destroyed by dynamite.
Looby viewed politics as a way to change an oppressive system. In 1951, he and fellow attorney Robert E. Lillard became the first blacks to be elected to the city council since 1911. In 1962, he ran for a seat on the Tennessee Supreme Court but lost. In 1963, Looby became a member of the Metropolitan Charter Commission. In 1971, he retired after serving on the old city council and the new Metropolitan Council for a combined total of twenty years.
Z. Alexander Looby died on March 24, 1972. On October 8, 1982, the Nashville Bar Association, whose white members had denied Alexander Looby’s membership application in the l9SO’s, posthumously, granted a certificate of membership in his name. His contributions to Afro-American Nashville are recognized in the Z. Alexander Lobby Library and Community Center erected by the city on Metro Center Boulevard.
Written By: Linda T. Wynn, Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee, ed. Bobby L. Lovett & Linda T. Wynn.