Sears as a young
lawyer, with an eye
toward the judiciary.
Sears, with family, in front of a photo of her father. “After
I became a superior court judge, my father was just
floored,” says Sears. “He wept. It was not on his radar.”
of problems between the Detroit police
and the African-American community—
very similar to what you’re seeing now
in this country. There were a number
of shootings of African-Americans. The
community was very upset.
A lot of the heroes of the movement were
lawyers, so the law was a natural choice
for people trying to make a difference.
Moore: I first became interested in the
law following my father’s death when I
was 11 years old. His estate was probated.
I wanted to become a lawyer so I could
sue the bank, the trustees. Thereafter, I
became interested in the law based upon
my work with the Urban League, where I
was a job developer. Then I witnessed and
participated in the civil rights movement,
and I saw the law as a tool for social
change. I heard Martin Luther King Jr.
speak in California and in Chicago. My
office with the Urban League was right
down the street from the SCLC on Auburn
Avenue. We were all involved in the
movement. I marched. I served as a tester
for housing discrimination cases.
Thomas G. Sampson,
University of North
Carolina School of
Law, 1971; managing
partner, Thomas Sampson
Kennedy & Tompkins: I grew
up in a family of lawyers. My father
was a law professor at North Carolina
Central University School of Law—he
later became the dean—and he spent
many weekends moonlighting at the
only African-American law firm in the
city of Durham, North Carolina. He
handled briefs, wrote motions—99
percent of which were connected
to trouble related to the civil rights
movement. I was impressed with the role
he and other lawyers were playing, and I
subconsciously gravitated toward the law.
It felt natural.
Sears: I wanted to be a lawyer to change
things, for me and for the people that
look like me. I got interested in politics
very early, and I got interested in the
Supreme Court. I could see early on,
really early on, the court making so many
changes. None of this was coming out of
the Legislature. It was all coming out of
the courts. It would go up through the
state courts and all the wrong things
would be done. The Legal Defense Fund
and NAACP would take it to the federal
courts and it would be set right. I was
like, “Wow, that’s power. I want to be
part of that.”
Persons: In 1968, a young lawyer named
Bobby Lee Hill, who had just become the
first black person elected to the Georgia
House of Representatives, spoke at my
school. He was dynamic and inspiring. I
had never met any lawyers. I didn’t know
any. But he sparked an interest.
Taylor: I actually wanted to be a lawyer
before I became a policeman. I don’t
know if it was a collective effort, but a
number of us younger guys thought that
we could have an impact by joining the
police department, with the purpose of
changing it from within. It was lawyers
like Ken Cockrel and Justin Ravitz, and
the work they did addressing concerns
in the community and corruption in
the police department, that convinced
us we could change things. This was
a time when a lot of policemen in
Detroit were getting shot. My family
was very concerned about my safety,
and questioned my decision. I was a
police officer for 10 years, much of it
undercover. It was a rough 10 years. I
was 31 when I started law school in 1979.
My family was relieved. They thought I’d
come to my senses.
Clarence Cooper, Emory University
School of Law, 1967; Senior U.S.
District Judge, United States District
Court for the Northern District of
Georgia: My goal was to finish college,
go to law school and become a civil
rights lawyer. It didn’t quite work out that
way—I became a prosecutor [laughs].
The first black prosecutor in the state of
Georgia, in fact.