By The Editors / November / December 2000
October 24th, 2007

Louis Redding ’23

In 1929, at the age of twenty-eight, Louis Redding became the first African American to practice law in Delaware—a segregated state. He would go on to be a pioneer in the civil rights movement, most notably as a leader in the courtroom battle to desegregate the nation’s public schools.

Raised in Wilmington, Delaware, Redding was one of the few African Americans in his class at Brown and was the only black to graduate from Harvard Law School in 1928. The first time he walked into a Delaware courtroom, during his second year at Harvard, a bailiff threw him out for refusing to sit in the Jim Crow section. The discrimination didn’t end when he received his degree: as Delaware’s only black lawyer for twenty-six years, he was excluded from the state bar association for two decades.

Redding’s first big case came in 1949, when he represented a group of students at the all-black Delaware State College who had been denied admission to the all-white University of Delaware. A sympathetic judge, ruling that the black college was of inferior quality, ordered the black students immediately admitted to the white school, making the University of Delaware the first state undergraduate college in the country to be desegregated by court order.

Three years later Redding won the case that made Delaware the first state in the nation to admit black schoolchildren to white public schools. At the time Thurgood Marshall called it the “first real victory in our campaign to destroy segregation of American pupils in elementary and high schools.” After the state appealed the ruling, the case became part of Brown v. the Board of Education, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision that ordered school desegregation.

Redding did not limit his integration efforts to schools. In 1958 he tried the case of an African-American city councilman in Wilmington who was denied a cup of coffee at a local shop. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a local decision that the coffee shop, since it sat on city-owned property, could not discriminate based on race. To this day, law students across the country study the case.

Redding, who died in 1998, downplayed his achievements. “I don’t know that I’m a hero at all,” he told Laurie Hays of the Wilmington News-Journal in an article reprinted in the February 1986 BAM. “All we did was our duty, not only to the people who were discriminated against, but to this so-called democratic country.”

Kenneth Starr ’69 A.M.

It’s a safe bet that Brown made more of an impression on Ken Starr than the other way around. Indeed, few professors or students seem to recall much about the mild-mannered Texan with the thick glasses whose prosecutorial work would lead to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

“I have zero memory of him in those days,” associate dean Edward Beiser, who was one of Starr’s teachers, said recently. In fact, Starr’s political science work on College Hill convinced him that he was not cut out to be an academic. “As much as I enjoyed Brown,” he told the BAM in 1992, “I simply did not like what I saw about my future as a political science professor. In that sense, the Brown experience helped me understand what I should have been doing all along.”

After Brown, Starr attended Duke Law School, clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger, and became a federal appeals-court judge. President George Bush appointed him U.S. Solicitor General and was rumored to be considering Starr for a Supreme Court nomination when Bush lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton.

One little-known Starr fact: forty-two linear feet of his personal papers from the 1980s are stored in the John Hay Library.

Zechariah Chafee Jr. ’07

One of the premier legal scholars of the early twentieth century, Zechariah Chafee was well-known among jurists for his uncompromising advocacy of civil liberties. He rose to prominence in 1920 with the publication of his first book, Freedom of Speech, which he wrote as a response to attempts at quieting political dissenters during World War I. When, twenty-one years later, Chafee expanded and rewrote the book (now called Free Speech in the United States), it became a libertarian bible. During a 1952 U.S. Senate subcommittee meeting, Senator Joseph McCarthy named him a person dangerous to the United States. Chafee remained unaffected by the charge. In 1956 he published his last book, The Blessings of Liberty.

John Fugio Aiso ’31

During World War II 6,000 Japanese-language specialists—4,500 of them Japanese Americans—served a crucial role in the Pacific as interpreters, translators, interrogators, and spies for the Allied forces. They coaxed reluctant Japanese soldiers from caves and bunkers, rescued civil-ians, and later played key roles in the post-war occupation. In fact, Major General Charles Willoughby, who was General MacArthur’s chief of intelligence, credited the specialists with saving countless Allied lives and shortening the war by two years.

Much of the credit belongs to John Fugio Aiso, the first director of academic training at the Military Intelligence Service Language School, which trained all the Japanese-language specialists. A lieutenant colonel, Aiso was the highest-ranking Japanese American in the war. He was drafted in 1941 and remained on active duty until 1947.

After the war Aiso be-came the first Nisei (second-generation Japanese American) to be appointed to a judgeship in California, making him the first Nisei judge in the continental United States. He was also the first Nisei justice on the California Court of Appeals. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson awarded him the Legion of Merit, and in 1983 Japan bestowed upon him the Third Class Order of the Rising Sun.

When Aiso died after a 1997 mugger’s attack, his friend, Shigeya Kihara, praised him in an article published in Rafu Shimpo: “He paved the way,” Kihara wrote, “to changing the status of Nisei in America from one of prejudice and exclusion to one of trust, dignity, and acceptance.”

O. Rogeriee Thompson ’73
Victoria Lederberg ’59, ’66 Ph.D.

Brown alumni have had a particularly strong influence in Rhode Island. For a few years in the late 1990s, for example, four of the five members of the Rhode Island Supreme Court were graduates of the University. Throughout the twentieth century Brown women have been particularly visible in the state, as the careers of O. Rogeriee Thompson and Victoria Lederberg demonstrate.

As a judge, Thompson has always had two strikes against her: she is a woman, and she is African American. Yet in 1988 she became the first African-American woman appointed to the Rhode Island district court, and nine years later she was the first African-American woman named to the state’s superior court. In Rhode Island there’s only one judicial first left—to become the first African-American woman on the state supreme court. “Imagine what it feels like to walk out on that bench as an African-American woman,” Thompson told an audience on campus last year. “I look to my right and see a white clerk and white sheriffs. I am the only person of color in the entire courtroom—until they open the cellblock and bring in fourteen people in chains and manacles. Thirteen of them are black.”

Victoria Lederberg, on the other hand, already sits on the Rhode Island Supreme Court, a position she earned after a career in local and state politics. A politician with both a doctorate in psychology and a law degree is a rarity, but Lederberg insists that the two complement each other: psychology tries to understand human behavior, she has said, while law tries to direct it. Lederberg has been a professor at Rhode Island College, a state representative, a state senator, a municipal-court judge, and a Democratic candidate for the mayor of Providence.

Joseph Tauro ’53

Faced with a class-action lawsuit just a few months after he’d been appointed a federal judge on the First District Court in Boston, Joseph Tauro left the courtroom, drove to western Massachusetts, then returned to the courtroom to change the lives of mentally handicapped people forever.

The lawsuit alleged that the state schools for mentally handicapped children had become dirty and horrific. On his visit to one such school in western Massachusetts, Tauro had seen people drinking from toilets, squatting in their own excrement, and screaming. For the next two decades he made himself judicial guardian for the mentally retarded in Massachusetts, a duty he did not relinquish until 1993, when he was convinced conditions had changed for the good.

Now the district court’s chief justice, Tauro has developed a reputation as a strong judicial activist unafraid to use the power of the federal bench to right a perceived wrong. “I enjoy being on the front lines,” Tauro told the Boston Globe several years ago. “I enjoy the challenge that comes with facing these kinds of issues, and having an opportunity to serve as a catalyst.”

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November / December 2000