By RobertF.O’Neill

W

illiam H. Ridley, of Media, was a polite man whose dignified air and waxed mustache befitted a member of the Delaware County Bar Association before the turn of the 20th century.

If his early career as the county’s first African-American lawyer involved a confrontation and exchange of gunfire with Chester ruffians, then it only proved that Ridley knew more ways than one to command respect.

He was honored in June 1991, 46 years after his death at age 78 at his gravesite in Eden Cemetery in Collingdale at an invitation-only affair co-sponsored by his descendants and the Bar Association. A headstone was placed on his then-unmarked grave and people gathered in Springfield for a reception.

Ridley made local history when he was admitted to the county bar on March 23, 1891 at age 24, and remained the bar’s only Black member until his death in 1945.

Some old-timers may remember the few episodes in his life that made headlines, such as the Chester shooting and a short-lived attempt at political office, but he’s mostly thought of as a gentleman.

Delaware County Senior Judge John V. Diggins, who died in 1993 at age 96, met Ridley in 1927 when Diggins was admitted to the bar. In a 1991 interview, he recalled Ridley as a man of extraordinary manner and politeness toward others, particularly fellow members of the bar.

“It was his demeanor which stood him out from the rest,” reflected Diggins, then-94. “Bill Ridley was a gentleman from the old school; gentle, dignified and meticulous in his appearance.”

There were 30 members of the county bar when Ridley won the approval of the County Board of Law Examiners in 1891. Diggins said there was three times that number when he was……

 

For more on this story see the Feb 15-21 edition of the SPIRIT>

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