Black History Daily: Who was The Court of Appeals’ First Black Judge? (1276 hits)
In 1966 Spottswood Robinson (1916-98) became the first black judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. Robinson was born in Richmond, Virginia. He attended Virginia Union University in Richmond for a while, but entered Howard University School of Law, graduating magna cum laude in 1939 with a law degree. He taught at Howard in Washington, D.C., for eight years, moving from teaching fellow to become associate professor.
Robinson was admitted to the Virginia bar and practiced in Richmond during the struggle for civil rights. Immediately his work catapulted him to national prominence. He left Howard and became an attorney for the legal defense fund of Virginia’s NAACP. He joined his former mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, in a successful Supreme Court case that outlawed restrictive covenants that prevented the sale of real estate to blacks. He was named southeast regional counsel for the NAACP’s defense fund in 1951. He was successful in his argument before the Supreme Court, resulting in the court’s historic decision in the Brown v. Board of Education to strike down the “separate but equal” doctrine in public education in the South.
Other civil rights cases that Robinson won related to desegregation in interstate buses and in public parks. Robinson left his practice in 1960 and became dean of the law school at Howard University until 1963. President John F. Kennedy in 1961 named him to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He was named to the Court of Appeals in 1966, becoming chief judge of that court from 1981 to 1986. Robinson retired in 1992 and returned to Richmond where he died.