Drum Major For Justice

Professor Charles Ogletree, Jr. ’78 will complete several major writing projects begun by his late friend and mentor, A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., chief judge emeritus of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, who died in December.

Before his death, Higginbotham was at work on the final volume of his three-part series on race and the American legal process. (The first volume, In the Matter of Color, was published by Oxford University Press in 1978 and the second, Shades of Freedom, in 1996.) Higginbotham had also nearly finished two new law review articles. One, to be published in the Howard Law Review, “addresses the judge’s opposition to Clarence Thomas and explains why he thought it was so inappropriate for the National Bar Association to provide Thomas with a forum when Thomas was so hostile to the organization’s values,” says Ogletree. The other, for the Cincinnati Law Review, “traces Higginbotham’s journey on a metaphorical underground railroad and describes the people who helped transport him from periods of despair to periods of hope.”

“The dean has graciously offered to provide the support I need to spend some concentrated time on these projects during the summer,” says Ogletree, who will also complete Higginbotham’s unfinished volume on Article III African American judges, which includes commentary along with excerpts from their “groundbreaking legal opinions.”

Ogletree was a 3L and president of the National Black Law Students Association when he met Judge Higginbotham in 1978 at an HLS conference. “His booming voice and genuine commitment to everyone in the room just captivated me,” says Ogletree. The two became friends in the 1980s when Higginbotham first offered his popular seminar, Race, Values, and the American Legal Process, at the School. “More recently, after his retirement from the court, we found ourselves on the same panels, talking about the same issues, and I just hitched myself to his wagon,” Ogletree says. Ogletree and Higginbotham cosponsored two conferences at the School in recent years, the Plessy v. Ferguson Conference in 1996, and the Charles Hamilton Houston Symposium in 1998.

"Leon Higginbotham was a drum major for justice. The consistent theme in all his work is the importance of striving to achieve justice, whether in civil rights, voting rights, affirmative action, or South Africa," says Ogletree. "It is an honor and a challenge to continue his work and ensure that his legacy is there for the next generation of lawyers and law students and citizens."