The second African-American attorney to practice law in Delaware, Theophilus R. Nix Sr., died last Monday at 83 after a long illness. Mr. Nix focused his 36-year legal career on protecting the rights of minorities, the disenfranchised, the disabled, and the rights of criminal defendants.

Mr. Nix was admitted to the bar on Nov. 27, 1956, 29 years after the late Louis Redding became the first African American to desegregate the bar in Delaware. Mr. Nix also was the first African-American criminal prosecutor for the Municipal Court in Wilmington.

“When you think about justice in Delaware, you think of Theo Nix,” U.S. Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden said when Mr. Nix and his family received the 2003 Alumni of the Year Award from Wilmington Friends School, from which his four children and three grandchildren graduated.

In the tradition of such legal giants as former United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston and Spottswood Robinson, Mr. Nix believed the law could be used as a potent force to promote social change.

“I have tried to use my professional knowledge to improve conditions for racial minorities in Delaware,” Mr. Nix said when he accepted the NAACP Diversity in the Legal Community Award in 1995. “This has taken me to the courtroom, the street, the projects, the classroom, and the church.”

Mr. Nix was part of a prominent legal family in the tri-state area. Mr. Nix’s cousin, Robert N. C. Nix Jr., was the first African American Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from 1984 to 1996. Mr. Nix’s uncle, Robert N. C. Nix Sr., was the first African American from Pennsylvania to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mr. Nix, who founded his own solo law practice, handled many landmark civil rights cases, including Belvedere Fire Company v. New Castle County, which in 1958 gained the only African American company in the State at the time an equal share of county funds as white fire companies received; Echols v. Superior Court, which redressed job discrimination in hiring by the Court itself; and a 1960 suit which mandated changes in the hiring practices in the Wilmington police department to guard against discrimination.

As a Howard University Law School student, Mr. Nix along with other students assisted then civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall and his team of lawyers on the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case which came before the U.S. Supreme Court. Part of that case, which ended segregation in education, involved Wilmington Delaware’s school segregation law.

Mr. Nix also represented high-profile entertainers such as Thelonious Monk in 1958 and Sarah Vaughan in 1962 as well as handled small businesses, and individual civil and criminal cases.

He was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to serve on the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. He also served as general counsel to the then 500,000-member United African Methodist Episcopal Church, leading the successful effort to obtain funding for an affordable housing project in 1969. He took many pro bono cases to help grassroots organizations working on behalf of Wilmington families.

Mr. Nix was married for 57 years to Dr. Lulu Mae Nix, who shared his commitment to community service. She co-founded Delaware Adolescent Program Inc. (DAPI), and more recently, Professional Counseling Resources, Inc., which together have raised over $30 million in federal grants for nonprofit organizations. She was also appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve as the first Director of the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where she provided millions of dollars in federal grants to nonprofit organizations around the country.

Mr. Nix’s four children have embraced this same tradition of community service. Mr. Nix’s oldest son, Theophilus R. Nix Jr., Esq., corporate counsel at Dupont Corporation, has assisted numerous nonprofit organizations in the northeast in leadership development and fundraising. His other son, Rev. Dr. Sheldon Nix, has a Doctorate in Psychology and is a Senior Pastor of Life Worth Living Fellowship in Delaware, and has designed and raised millions of dollars for social programs across the country.

Mr. Nix’s daughter, Denise Nix Thompson, pursed his love for the arts and advocacy for communities, as a professional ballet dancer for Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theater of Harlem, and a community development banker and nonprofit consultant in New York city.

His youngest daughter, Crystal Nix Hines, a writer and attorney in Los Angeles, clerked for then U. S. Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and Sandra Day O’Connor and was a political appointee in the Clinton Administration focusing on international human rights and ethnic conflict issues. A longtime friend and former classmate of both Senator Barack and Michelle Obama, she is a member of the Obama campaign’s National Finance Committee and Women for Obama leadership team.

Mr. Nix was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 21, 1925 to the Reverend Andrew Nix Sr. and Ida Nix, a seamstress, and grew up in Philadelphia, Pa.

Mr. Nix, an Army veteran of World War II during which he was a drum major and played the saxophone, graduated from Lincoln University in 1951 with a degree in political science and from Howard Law School in 1954. In addition to Delaware’s Bar, Mr. Nix was admitted to the Bar in both Massachusetts and Michigan. Mr. Nix and his family spent much of their summers on Martha’s Vineyard where they owned a home, and he was a lover of the arts.

In addition to his wife of over 56 years and four children, he is survived by his eight grandchildren and four siblings.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, please send a monetary gift to the “Theophilus R. Nix Sr. Scholarship Fund — Wilmington Friends School” and mail to NDI, 2500 West 4th street, Suite 5B, Wilmington, Delaware 19805.

The purpose of the scholarship fund is to benefit low-income African American children with their education at Wilmington Friends School.

A private family interment was held, and a celebration of his life will be held in October.