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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

In 2016, the former NBA great spotlighted a local African American hero each day. Here's another look. All Star #1: Leon Higginbotham

In 2016, Charles Barkley marked Black History Month with a daily spotlight on local African-American heroes. 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. Here’s another look.


Leon Higginbotham Jr.

District Court Judge

Leon Higginbotham Jr.

District Court Judge

(February 25, 1928 - December 14, 1998)

A district court 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 first Black appointee to a federal regulatory body when President Kennedy placed him on the Federal Trade Commission, and was Philadelphia’s first African-American assistant district attorney.

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.”


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



  • 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



“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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