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K. Leroy Irvis (December 27, 1919 – March 16, 2006) was the first African American to serve as a speaker of the house in any state legislature in the United Statesmarker since Reconstruction. John Roy Lynch of Mississippi was the first African American to hold that position. Mr. Irvis, a Democrat, represented Pittsburghmarker in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1958-1988.

Early life

K. Leroy Irvis was born in Saugerties, New York. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of New York State Teachers Collegemarker in 1938 with a master's degree in education—only the second black American to graduate from the college. Irvis proceeded to teach English and history in Baltimoremarker high schools until World War II, when he became a civilian flying instructor in the War Department.

Pennsylvania career

After World War II, he moved to Pittsburgh and began working as the public relations secretary for the local chapter of the Urban League. While with the Urban League, he led a demonstration against Jim Crow employment discrimination by Pittsburgh's department stores in 1947, the first demonstration of its kind in American history [261414]. It is likely that Mr. Irvis was blackballed from private-sector jobs for quite some time as a result.

He became an entrepreneur for a time, managing a toy factory and a hot dog stand. In 1950, he left his businesses and pursued blue-collar work in steel mills and road construction.

In 1954 he earned a law degree from University of Pittsburgh School of Lawmarker. He then worked in a series of prestigious government jobs, such as law clerk to Judge Anne X. Alpern and city solicitor, finally rising to become the first black assistant district attorney of Allegheny County, Pennsylvaniamarker. He supplemented his income as a radio announcer for WILY. When his reputation had grown, he opened a private law practice downtown.

K. Leroy Irvis served Pittsburgh's Hill District for 15 straight terms. Rep. Irvis sponsored over 1600 bills, and is most known for bills promoting civil rights, fair housing, education, public health, highway safety, and modernization of the penal code. In 1977 he ascended to the role of speaker of the house by a unanimous vote.

His most noted achievements include the passage of legislation creating the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency and Equal Opportunity Program, the state's community college system, the Minority Business Development Authority, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He is also largely responsible for the Pennsylvania House Ethics Committee, lobbyist registration, and the Legislative Audit Advisory Commission.


Among the organizations to have formally honored Irvis are the NAACP, University of Pennsylvaniamarker, Lincoln University of Pennsylvaniamarker, and Dominion Resources The University of Pittsburghmarker has a K. Leroy Irvis Reading Room in Hillman Librarymarker. In 2003, the South Office Building within the Pennsylvania Capitol Complex was renamed the Speaker K. Leroy Irvis Office Building.

Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman T. J. Rooney described Rep. Irvis as, "one of greatest legislative giants that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has ever seen ... [and] one of the most admired and respected Pennsylvanians we'll ever know."

Later life

Irvis's first wife, Katharyne Jones, died in 1958. In 1973 he married Cathryn L. Edwards, who survived him, as do his son Reginald and daughter Sherri.

In 1988, the same year that he retired from politics, Mr. Irvis wrote This Land of Fire, (ISBN 0-943556-01-5) a book of poems published by Temple Universitymarker. His wood sculptures have been displayed in exhibits throughout the country. He died at age 86 of cancer.

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