U.S. Commission On Civil Rights Mourns the Death of Commissioner A. Leon Higginbotham

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights mourns the death on Monday, December 14, of Commissioner A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. Judge Higginbotham, retired Chief Judge Emeritus of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, was the recipient of more than 60 honorary degrees as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Today, he was remembered at the Commission not only as a giant in the civil rights movement but as a warm and generous person.

"Judge Higginbotham brought an extraordinary combination of dignity, passion, and insight to his service at the Commission," said Commission Chairperson Mary Frances Berry. "He was one of my closest friends for almost thirty years. I will miss his voice, his vision, and his commitment."

Judge Higginbotham received his law degree from Yale University in 1952, and worked for several years at what was then Philadelphia's only African American law firm. His dedication and abilities led to his appointment to high-level State and Federal positions. President Kennedy appointed him as a Commissioner to the Federal Trade Commission in 1962, and President Johnson named him to the U.S. District Court of Pennsylvania in 1965, when he was 35 years old.

Judge Higginbotham, a highly regarded scholar who taught at several of the nation's most prestigious law schools, was also a prolific author whose books and articles explored the intersection of race and the law. His book, In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process, received numerous national and international awards.

At the Commission meeting on Friday, December 11, Judge Higginbotham spoke passionately of the need to address such issues as affirmative action in higher education. "These are among the most significant issues of the next century," he noted, "and of the deepest consequence."

It was a most appropriate statement of a gentleman whose remarkable life and career were dedicated to the achievement of social justice, equality, and civil rights.