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Judge Higginbotham's prescient critique of Justice Thomas

Read the letter here

Published shortly after Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed to his current seat on the Supreme Court, Judge Higginbotham’s open letter is a testament to his values, his vision, and his appreciation for the history of the civil rights movement.

Charles Barkley's
Black History Month All Stars

The former NBA great highlights a local African American hero each day. All Star #1: Leon Higginbotham

To mark Black History Month here at The Citizen, Charles Barkley introduces you every day to a host of Philadelphia Black History Month All-Stars. Many of them didn’t make it into the history books or even the newspapers of their time. But their stories are inspiring and worth knowing.

01

Leon Higginbotham, Jr.

Federal Judge

Leon Higginbotham, Jr.

Federal Judge

(February 25, 1928 - December 14, 1998)

A federal judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977—the first African American to hold the position—Leon Higginbotham was a jurist, a scholar and an orator. He was a voice for the downtrodden who never shied away from a fight.

Two weeks before his death, he testified before Congress against the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. When Congressman Bob Barr made reference to “the real America,” Higginbotham said: “My father was a laborer. My mother was a domestic. And I climbed the ladder and I didn’t come to where I am today through some magical vein. So I am willing to match you, any hour, any day, in terms of the perception of the real America.”

EDUCATION:

  • Antioch College, B.A. 1949
  • Yale University Law School, LL.B, 1952

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

  • Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, 1953-54 under D.A. Richardson Dilworth (the first black lawyer to argue in the Court of Common Pleas)
  • President, Philadelphia Chapter of the NAACP, 1960-1962
  • Appointed by President Johnson to Judge of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, 1964
  • Elevated by President Carter to the United States Court of Appeals in 1977, where he served until 1993
  • Founder of SAFE, the South Africa Free Election Fund, and ultimately helped draft a new constitution for post-apartheid South Africa

 

FINAL WORD:

“Judge Higginbotham’s work and the example he set made a critical contribution to the course of the rule of law in the United States and a difference in the lives of African Americans, and indeed the lives of all Americans,” said Nelson Mandela. “But his influence also crossed borders and inspired many who fought for freedom and equality in other countries.”

 

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