Dr. Charles Gomillion was born in Johnston, South Carolina on April 1, 1900. Gomillion, son of a former slave, was an educator and community activist, who worked at Tuskegee Institute from 1928-1971. Gomillion, a tireless activist for voting rights, was the lead plaintiff in Gomillion v. Lightfoot, the landmark case that outlawed racial gerrymandering and helped pave the way for passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. On November 14, 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gomillion v. Lightfoot that Tuskegee city officials had unconstitutionally redrawn the city’s boundaries to ensure the election of white candidates in the city’s political races. The heart of the case dealt with the altering of the shape of Tuskegee from a square to an irregular 28-sided figure that eliminated from the city all but four or five of the 400 African American voters without eliminating any of the 1,300 white voters.
Although Gomillion’s father never attended school or learned to read or write, and his mother had only gone through the third grade they stressed the importance of education. However, it was very difficult for Gomillion to receive a quality education due to the fact that the African American school in Johnston was only open three months out of the year. Understanding that education was the path to a better life, Gomillion left home at 16 to attend secondary school at Paine College in Augusta, Georgia. He completed high school and some college before dropping out and returning home to help his aging parents. Later he returned to Paine College to finish his degree and began teaching at Tuskegee Institute in 1928. Gomillion continued his studies in sociology, eventually earning a PhD from Ohio State University. He also earned several honorary degrees from Howard University, Ohio State University, Tuskegee Institute, and Paine College.
During his 43 years at Tuskegee Institute Gomillion served as a professor of Sociology, Chairman of the Division of Social Sciences, Dean of Students, and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Gomillion’s sociological theories and advice on race relations firmly established him as a world renowned researcher, writer, and civil rights advocate. He was very popular among his peers and students and was an active member on several prominent organizations including the NAACP, the Alabama Council, the Southern Regional Council, the Southern Council Educational Fund, and Tuskegee Civic Association. As president of the Tuskegee Civic Association, he worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to increase African American voter registration in the South.
Gomillion received numerous honors including the Charles S. Johnson Race Relations Award, the Lyndon B. Johnson Political Freedom Award, the Sociological Practice Association Distinguished Career Award, and the national Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Man of the Year Award. On October 4, 1995, at the age of 95, Gomillion passed away.