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Thomas Gillis Nutter (June 15, 1876 – June 23, 1959) was an African-American attorney, state legislator, and civil rights activist. A native of Princess Anne, Maryland, Nutter graduated from Howard University law school in 1899 before opening a law office in Charleston in 1903.

A Republican, Nutter was elected to the state legislature in 1919 and was reelected to a second term in 1921. He was the first African-American to represent Kanawha County in the House of Delegates. Notably, Nutter was elected from a district overwhelmingly White. As a legislator, Nutter was instrumental in establishing Lakin State Hospital, which offered mental health care for African-Americans in the days of segregation. Nutter also helped craft the Capehart Anti-Lynching Law, which required counties where a lynching occurred to pay up to $5,000 to the victim’s family. At the time, few, if any, such laws existed in the country.

Nutter devoted much of his life to the struggle for civil rights. In 1925, he lobbied against the Charleston premiere of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a film criticized for its portrayal of African-Americans and its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan. Nutter argued the film could not be shown as it violated a 1919 state law, which he had co-sponsored, prohibiting entertainment seen as demeaning to a race or class of people. The issue went all the way to the West Virginia Supreme Court, which sided with Nutter and blocked the exhibition of the film.

In 1928, in another case before the Supreme Court, Nutter represented a group of African-American plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Charleston Public Library. At the time, African-Americans were barred from using the library and instead were relegated to a lower-quality library in another part of town. Nutter argued it was illegal for taxpayers like his clients to be denied access to a public building funded by their taxes. The court ruled in favor of Nutter and the plaintiffs.

In a 1929 case, White v. White, Nutter represented an African-American couple, Lewis and Cora White, in a lawsuit against a land developer, H.B. White. The crux of the suit was a restrictive covenant that prohibited the couple from purchasing a lot in a Huntington subdivision. As the covenant stated, “any person of Ethiopian race or descent” could not purchase or lease the lot. While the state Supreme Court decision would not overturn restrictive covenants based on race, the court still sided with the couple, and ruled they were permitted to purchase the lot. The victory was praised by African-American leaders and newspapers.

Nutter also served as president of the West Virginia NAACP and as a NAACP national vice-president. In April 1940, with the NAACP, Nutter organized a concert at the Charleston Municipal Auditorium featuring African-American singer Marian Anderson. The event attracted an integrated audience of 3,500 people, the largest crowd to attend a Municipal Auditorium event to that point.

Nutter was a member of the American Bar Association as well as such organizations as the Elks and the Pythians. He married Sarah Meriwether Nutter in 1920. He died at the age of 83 due to bilateral pneumonia, and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Washington D.C.

This Article was written by Jeffrey Webb

Last Revised on May 20, 2021


Sources

"T.G. Nutter". Profiles: West Virginians Who Made a Difference. Charleston: Charleston Gazette, 1999.

“Thomas G. Nutter.”. History of the American Negro: West Virginia Edition. Atlanta: A.B. Caldwell Publishing Company, 1923.

Edge, Thomas J.. ""An Arm of God": The Early History of the NAACP in Charleston, West Virginia, 1917-1925.". West Virginia History, New Series, 7, no. 2. 2013.

Cite This Article

Webb, Jeffrey "T. G. Nutter." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 20 May 2021. Web. 26 September 2021.

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