Senators Propose Naming USDOT Headquarters Building for William Coleman

A bipartisan group of Senators this week introduced a bill to name the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters building after former Secretary William Coleman, the first African-American SecDOT.

The bill (S. 3239) was introduced on January 28 by:

  • The chairman and ranking minority member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA);
  • The chairman and ranking minority member of the Environment and Public Works Committee (which has jurisdiction over bills naming federal buildings), John Barrasso (R-WY) and Tom Carper (D-DE);
  • The Senators from Coleman’s home state of Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey (R) and Bob Casey (R); and
  • The Senate’s African-American contingent– Tim Scott (R-SC), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

In a joint statement announcing the bill, Wicker said “As an accomplished legal scholar, World War II veteran, and civil rights leader, Mr. Coleman had already made his mark on history before being selected to serve as Secretary of Transportation. While at DOT, he provided a forward-looking vision for the future of transportation, spearheading the first comprehensive national transportation policy study and several important reform efforts. Naming the Department of Transportation headquarters after Secretary Coleman would be a fitting tribute for this distinguished public servant.”

Although he was only SecDOT for a little under two years (March 1975 to January 1977), Coleman accomplished quite a bit while there, and lived an unusually full, interesting, and well-rounded life (see ETW’s 2017 obituary of Coleman for more information). In particular, he also had a lot of transportation experience outside DOT in mass transit (he worked for Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth in the 1950s setting up publicly supported mass transit there, and later served as outside counsel for APTA) and aviation (a WWII Tuskeegee airman and later member of the Pan Am Board of Directors).

The other leading candidate to have the DOT HQ building named after them would be Alan Boyd, the first SecDOT (who was instrumental in shaping the Johnson Administration’s proposal to create USDOT and who helped shepherd the DOT Act through Congress). Contacted by ETW through his son Mark, Secretary Boyd (age 97 and a half) said he completely agrees with the naming choice and “thought the world of Secretary Coleman.”

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