David J. Vann was born on August 10, 1928 in Roanoke, Alabama. At an early age he moved to Auburn with his widowed mother where he attended high school before joining the army. After his military service he enrolled at the University of Alabama where he received a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1951. He later obtained a Master of Laws degree from George Washington University in 1953. United State Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black hired Vann as his law clerk. In 1954 the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education and David Vann was present at the Court for the reading of that decision.
Vann returned to Alabama to practice law in Birmingham as the Civil Rights Movement continued to gain momentum. It was during this time that he took a leading role as a young lawyer in the actions that led to a referendum which resulted in the transformation of Birmingham’s Commission into a Mayor-Council form of government. He became a special assistant to new mayor Albert Boutwell.
Before venturing into politics as a candidate for public office in his own right, Vann was a plaintiff as well as attorney of record in another landmark case, Reynolds v. Sims, which enshrined the principle of “one person, one vote” into the jurisprudence of the United States Supreme Court.
In 1971 he was elected to serve on the Birmingham City Council for a single term before becoming Mayor of Birmingham in 1975. While he left the Mayor’s office in 1979, he continued his service to the city on the Birmingham Water Works Board which began in 1978 until 1991, serving over 11 years as Chairman. Among a lengthy list of other accomplishments, Vann led the effort to establish the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute during the Arrington administration and he became that mayor’s lead attorney in an aggressive annexation campaign which brought commercial properties into Birmingham’s corporate limits to strengthen its tax base.
David J. Vann died in Birmingham on June 9, 2000. For his abilities as a lawyer, the courage of his convictions, and his service to his state he is inducted into the Alabama Lawyers’ Hall of Fame.