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African American History Month

African American History Month in February honors the struggles and victories that changed, and continue to change, America. The federal courts join in the ongoing  journey toward justice at every level of the Third Branch of government.

Judges' Journeys Recall Struggle and Success

Video profiles of these African American federal judges offer perspectives on their experiences during the Civil Rights era.  

The videos are part of the U.S. courts’ Pathways to the Bench series.  In the videos, judges share first-person accounts of their different paths through the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s and what motivated them to enter the law and, eventually, become judges. 

The profiled judges are:

  • U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton summarizes the takeaway from these stories when he advises young people: “Don’t let outside forces define you or determine your future.” 
  • Retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys, who worked in the Mississippi cotton fields before serving in the Marines and entering law school. “I started working in the fields at about the age of six years old,” Keys recalls. “It was backbreaking, very hard, arduous work.”
  • U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Roger L. Gregory, who attended segregated schools in Virginia, but formed lifelong friendships when his high school was integrated. “We came together and we found the common ground that had been denied us for so long.”
  • U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Ann C. Williams, whose parents worked in lesser jobs in Detroit despite holding college degrees. “He drove a bus for 20 years. I said, ‘Daddy, how could you stand that,” Williams recalls, “and he said, ‘I did what I had to do.’”
  • U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffery P. Hopkins, who moved to Ohio after his uncle was murdered by a Georgia sheriff, whose conviction was later overturned. “My uncle’s case really motivated me to be a part of our justice system,” Hopkins says.
  • U.S. District Judge Julie A. Robinson, who was born in Topeka, Kansas, the city where Brown v. Board of Education began. At age 5, she decided to become a lawyer, an ambition her father encouraged. “You never can dream big enough,” Robinson says.
  • U.S. District Court Judge Myron H. Thompson, who battled polio and childhood paralysis. He says that discrimination over his disabilities was even more severe than for his race. “It’s not the good things that happen to you that make you strong,” he says. “It’s when you confront something that you initially perceive as a disadvantage, that’s what builds character.”