Conference to Celebrate the Legacy of A. Leon Higginbotham
The third anniversary of the death of Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. '52, passed last December, and a new effort at appreciating his legacy is beginning.
As a legal scholar and a jurist, Higginbotham was a powerful champion of affirmative action and civil rights. He served as the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit from 1989 to 1991, and at the time of his death was Public Service Professor of Jurisprudence at Harvard University. In 1995, he received the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Clinton.
Higginbotham was born in Trenton, New Jersey, and attended Purdue University and Antioch College before graduating from Yale Law School. In 1962, he became the first African American appointed to a federal commission when President Kennedy named him to the Federal Trade Commission.
Higginbotham began his career as a judge in 1964 when he took the bench as a Federal District Court judge. At the time he was the youngest appointee to the federal judiciary in thirty years. He was elevated to the Court of Appeals in 1977 and retired in 1993.
His writings on the role of race in the legal system included the award-winning book, "In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process." He served Yale and Yale Law School in a variety of posts, including as an alumni fellow of the Yale Corporation and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Yale Law School Fund.
In a 1989 speech at YLS, Higginbotham told the story of struggles with bigotry and segregation that counterpointed his achievements. (You can read his talk through the link at the bottom of this page.)
On February 22-24, 2002, the Black Law Students Association of Yale Law School will host a conference in honor of the memory of Judge Higginbotham, titled "Race, Values, and the American Legal Process." The conference will draw together scholars, public officials, activists, and students to both celebrate Higginbotham's inspiring legacy and explore real ideas for reform in today's judicial system.
The legacy of Judge A. Leon Higginbotham provides a fitting model for considering civil rights activism in the American legal process today. Already confirmed speakers include Eleanor Holmes Norton, Barney Frank, Charles Ogletree, and Harry Edwards, as well as Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and Michael Higginbotham.