Husband and Father
Nathaniel Sextus Colley was born on November 21, 1918 in Carlowsville, Alabama. The youngest of six boys, he grew up in Snow Hill, Alabama. Colley graduated with high honors from Snow Hill Institute before attending Tuskegee Institute. He studied chemistry under George Washington Carver, graduating in 1941 with a B.S. degree and high honors. During World War II, Colley served overseas as Captain of a chemical company where he developed a protective suit that could resist poison gas. In 1946, he enrolled at Yale University Law School, winning the C. LaRue Munsun Prize for the most significant contribution of any Yale student to the New Haven, Connecticut Legal Aid Society. He also shared the Benjamin Sharp Prize for best original essay of any Yale student.
In 1948, Colley came to Sacramento, California where he wrote for the Sacramento Outlook newspaper as an Associate Editor. He opened his law practice as Sacramento’s only African American attorney, quickly establishing a reputation as one of the area’s best trial attorneys. He used his skills on behalf of private clients as well as public causes, such as civil rights. In the landmark case Ming vs. Horgan, Colley persuaded the United States Supreme Court that those receiving federal funds could not engage in discrimination. Colley also fought for the repeal of Proposition 14, and against housing and educational discrimination in California. As a member of the National Bar Association’s Hall of Fame, Colley taught part-time at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law for seventeen years.
In addition to his legal career, Colley was a member, and leader, of many civic and educational associations at the local, state, and national levels. Most notably, he served as Chairman of both the West Coast Region and the National Legal Committee for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Furthermore, Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown appointed Colley to the California State Board of Education in 1960, making him the first African American to serve on the board. Between 1961 and 1962, Colley sat on President John F. Kennedy’s Committee on Discrimination for the U.S. Armed Forces. An active Democrat, Colley was a member of the California State Democratic Central Committee and the Sacramento County Democratic Central Committee. In 1972, Colley was the Northern California Chairman of the Humphrey for President Campaign.
Colley met his wife, Sacramento native Jerlean “Jerry” Jackson, while attending Tuskegee Institute and the two married in 1942. They raised their five children in Sacramento, two of which would go on to become attorneys and join their father’s law firm. They enjoyed traveling, and visited such places as South America, China, Africa, Europe, and the former Soviet Union. An avid horse racing fan, Colley bred horses on his property in Elk Grove, California, and served on the California Horse Racing Commission.
Nathaniel Colley passed away from brain cancer on May 20, 1992 at his home in Elk Grove, California. He was 74 years old.
Jerlean Colley was born in 1919 in Montgomery, Alabama to Hattie Loubirda Crawford, a homemaker, and Charles Stonewall Jackson, a businessman and entrepreneur. She grew up in Sacramento, California, graduating from Sacramento High School in 1939. She attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama where she earned a degree in early childhood development. While at Tuskegee, Jerlean met Nathaniel Colley and the two married in 1942. In 1948, Nathaniel, Jerlean, and two infant daughters moved to Sacramento, California where they established Nathaniel’s law practice.
While her husband was the public face of groundbreaking anti-discrimination lawsuits and numerous civic organizations, Mrs. Colley was an equally influential behind-the-scenes leader. She cared for their five children and was an active PTA member and volunteer with Campfire and Girl Scouts. She worked closely with her husband as a receptionist, secretary, accountant, and advisor. According to one of their children, Jerlean was “the heart and soul of that law practice.” As Nathaniel’s career progressed, Jerlean entertained governors, Supreme Court Justices, and other distinguished guests in the family’s Land Park home.
Mrs. Colley also managed the family’s real estate and business interests, including Priscilla Bell Farms, an Elk Grove ranch where the Colley’s raised thoroughbred racehorses.
Jerlean Colley passed away on March 11, 1998 in Sacramento, California from complications related to a fall. She was 79 years old.