William F. Yardley

William F. Yardley

The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (Version 2.0)

Lewis L. Laska
Tennessee State University

William F. Yardley, an influential and powerful advocate for the legal rights of blacks, was the first African American to run for governor of Tennessee. Yardley was born in 1844, the child of a white mother and a black father and, therefore, legally free. He was literally left on the Knoxville doorstep of the white Yardley family, who took him in and gave him his name. Bound out to learn a trade, he attended school under the direction of an Episcopal minister. In 1869 he was teaching black children at the Ebenezer School and reading law with a white lawyer. By 1872 he had passed the bar exam and was licensed to practice. Apparently the first African American lawyer in Knoxville, he handled primarily criminal cases for black clients. In 1870 he married Elizabeth Stone, who was part Native American, and they had four children…

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