African American History Month: Six Judges' Journeys Recall Civil Rights Era
February is African American History Month, and video profiles of six African American federal judges offer a dramatic view of the changes experienced by individuals and a nation during the Civil Rights era.
The videos, part of the U.S. courts’ “Pathways to the Bench” series, recount the judges’ personal exposure to segregation, violence and racial discrimination while growing up—and how events in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s motivated them to enter the law and eventually become judges.
The profiled judges are:
- 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.”
The courts' “Pathways to the Bench” series shows brief video profiles of how federal judges overcame personal and character-building challenges. The videos and other educational materials can be found in the Educational Resources section of uscourts.gov. The site also has information on annual observances honored by the federal courts, including African American History Month.
A recent news article also describes how a federal court in Alabama played a major role in Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights work.