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Who is Judge Higginbotham?

Author note: This is a portion of a speech I wrote to honor a great friend and mentor, Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. prior to his passing. Considering the timing of my recent award, I felt it would be okay to share it with you all again.

Who is Judge Higginbotham?

A devoted father, husband and son...


Brilliant Jurist...

Acclaimed Historian...

Dedicated Humanitarian...

Revered Scholar...

Dynamic Speaker...

Outstanding Leader.

A. Leon Higginbotham Jr.

I have known him since 1973. I was a senior in college when I was interviewing all federal judges of African American descent for a senior political science project at Weslyan University. I came to Philadelphia to interview late Judge Hastie, Judge Higginbotham and Judge Green. The latter two have had a profound effect on my professional and personal lives.

I spoke with an Inquirer reporter just yesterday about my work on the book "In the Matter of Color", with Judge Higginbotham, and she asked me to describe my experiences. I first described how I came to work with the Judge that summer. Almost everyone of us in this room has at some point been a struggling indigent law student, so I am sure that you will appreciate my own personal "Big Dilemma" of the summer of 1975.

Then the judge offered me a job to work on the book for the summer, I was thrilled. I was going to have the opportunity to work closely with this historic figure on a groundbreaking work about African American history, and I was delighted. I was a political science and African history major in college, and at the time, I was secretly nursing a fantasy which I have to this day, of one day returning to school to obtain a PhD in History. So this was a major opportunity for me.

Within the next week, I received an offer from Morgan, Lewis and Bockius to work as a summer associate, at roughly five times the salary that the Judge was offering me. I spoke with the Judge about my dilemma, and the Judge was extremely sympathetic about my personal, intellectual and financial dilemmas. We concluded, after a long meeting, that the only reasonable resolution was that I should work both jobs!

And so I did! I worked for 6 weeks with Judge Higginbotham, and then 8 weeks at Morgan. On the weekends, I continued my work on the Pennsylvania Chapter, and I'd meet once, sometimes twice a week with the Judge at 7:30 in the mornings, and completed any work by the end of September. Of course, when I arrived at 7:30, the Judge had already been working for an hour, and sometimes longer!! Judge Higginbotham agonized over every word and this was a labor of love for him, each paragraph had to be perfect.

During the course of my legal career, Judge Higginbotham has been a mentor, a critic, a father figure and a friend. I was proud on that day to introduce the Judge and I am proud today for this opportunity to share some brief remembrances of him.

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