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Eddie Cole '51

Toledo Lawyer, Advocate, and Civil Rights Leader
Continues to Inspire at Age 98

January 23, 2019

Eddie Cole

At 98 years young, Eddie M. Cole '51 proves that hard work and passion are the foundation of a satisfying law career.

Cole was born on October 1, 1920, in Belzoni, Mississippi—a small town in the Mississippi Delta region. He was raised in the nearby town of Greenwood, where he graduated as valedictorian of his high school class in 1940. After receiving a competitive scholarship, he attended Tougaloo College for three years before volunteering to join the United States Army through the Student Reserve Program in 1943. He served around the world in the Philippines, New Guinea, and Japan before being honorably discharged in 1946. That same year, on a chance visit to see his sister in Toledo, Ohio, he discovered The University of Toledo and made the city his home for the next 65 years.

"I looked at it from the outside on a Sunday afternoon," said Cole. "I was very impressed with it. That summer I visited and met Dean Fornoff at the College of Law and registered for the fall sessions."

Cole started practicing law in Toledo on his 31st birthday and continued for 60 more years until his retirement in July 2011. In addition to private practice, he held several local and state government positions including special counsel in the 1960s to William B. Saxbe, who was attorney general for Ohio at the time. In the 70s, he worked as assistant director of law for the city of Toledo, as well as a member of the board of building standards for the state of Ohio—appointed by the governor and approved by the state. He also served as chairman of the board for the city's Core Revision Committee, as a member of the Ohio advisory commission on apprenticeship training, and as hearing officer for the UT Board of Regents by appointment of the governor during the on-campus student disturbances of the 70s. In the 90s, Toledo Mayor Carleton S. "Carty" Finkbeiner appointed Cole to the Civil Service Commission, where he served for four years as chairman. 

Throughout his life and career, Cole has been an advocate for social justice. Cole served as a hearing officer for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and was active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) within the apprenticeship training program. On behalf of the NAACP, Cole filed a complaint with the federal commission on civil rights. At that time, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was the commission chairman. The commission investigated and found discrimination in the apprenticeship training program in Toledo. In later years, Cole filed a second complaint on behalf of the NAACP citing discrimination in Toledo teacher assignments that were based on race. The complaint was substantiated by the federal education commission in 1978.

Cole recalls the civil rights demonstrations and riots in the 60s that took place across the country and in cities closer to home like Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Detroit. Cole worked hard to consolidate the community and limit feelings of polarization. He speaks fondly about the current atmosphere in Toledo, in which we are able to elect black mayors, members of city council, county police court judges, and municipal court judges. "We all have problems nationwide, worldwide—but I believe that Toledo is on the right track," said Cole.

He and his wife, Edrene Benson Cole, had two children, Edwin and Elecia, as well as three grandchildren. Edrene passed away in 2007, but was awarded an honorary doctor of education degree from The University of Toledo in 2006 for her work as a Toledo Public Schools administrator and historian.

After a long and distinguished career as one of the city's most beloved attorneys, Cole moved to Detroit, Michigan, at the age of 96 to live closer to his son. Two years later, he still misses the city of Toledo, as well as the College of Law where he formed lasting friendships. On occasion, he returns to Toledo to participate in the annual Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick luncheon for lawyers over 80, which he has been attending for the last 18 years. He also returns for the annual Thurgood Marshall Law Association luncheon to announce student recipients of the Eddie M. Cole Minority Scholarship, created in his honor at the College of Law. His story and legacy continue to inspire generations of lawyers to be agents of change in their own communities. 

Last Updated: 4/19/19