Oral Histories

The first interview celebrates Black History Month. Peter Pryor, Class of 1954, spent several hours over two days in September 2013 speaking with Lisa Suto, Public Services Library Assistant.

Mr. Pryor was the first African-American male since the 19th century to attend and graduate from the law school. He graduated around the time of the landmark decision of Brown vs. Board of Education.  The interview covers all aspects of his life from growing up down South to his life and career as a lawyer in Albany. This includes his life in the south during segregation, serving in World War II, his activity as an active Albany lawyer during the Civil Rights movement, and other parts of his distinuished career. He is an emeritus of the Board of Trustees at Albany Law School.

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Excerpts:

"My outfit was scheduled to go to the Pacific, and I had enough points to be discharged because of my period of time, and I had questions as to whether or not I would accept the discharge, or whether or not I would stay with my outfit.  And, after the bombing of Hiroshima I had rather strong feelings about war because even as a soldier in uniform I just couldn’t accept mass killings, and I think that had a tremendous influence on me, and I might also add that my experience as a black soldier after having experienced so much segregation in this country, that sort of tempered my, tempered me to a great extent.  I remember coming back to this country from France, I came back on the USS General Richardson, it was a nice cruise back, but I remember one day we were passing another ship and I assumed going off, the same as ours, and I heard wailing.  And, these weren’t American troops these were refugees from war torn Europe and when I got back to this country I said to myself they are coming to enjoy the liberty, the freedom, and I am coming back to enjoy the oppression and the segregation.  So, maybe I did become a pacifist."


"And, when I applied for my benefits the veteran’s administration would not approve of my going to law school.  'A black lawyer?  You must be out of your mind.  You should take courses in English and become a teacher.'  And, I said 'My grandfather, that’s what he did.  He graduated and he taught for a few years.'  So my benefits were limited, but I still was, excuse the expression, hell-bent on going to law school notwithstanding. And, I worked while going to law school full time and studied night’s full time.  Never came to school unprepared, and when I reached my senior year, before reaching my senior year I had exhausted my limited benefits and I did tell Dean Clements that I was going to withdraw. And, he asked me why, and I explained to him why . . . . and I think it was the next day I received a telephone call from Katherine . . . she was Registrar at the time, saying that the dean would like to see you, and I went to see the dean, and he said “I want to see you finish your courses here, and I’ve looked at your scholastic records and I think you’ll make a fine lawyer,” and he said that “I admitted you,” it was the Dean that did the admissions back then, he interviewed you and he said yes or no, and the Dean carried me down to the National Commercial Bank, which is presently Key Bank, and we met with the president there and the Dean arranged for a loan for $2500, which was a tremendous amount of money at that time, which he cosigned. And he said “I’ll see that you have the scholarship for your tuition,” and that was it."