Sampson: After law school I joined my
cousin, R.E. Thomas Jr., and started
a law firm. His name is the first name
on our firm today. He truly was a legal
pioneer. He was involved in the Alfred
“Tup” Holmes case, which resulted in the
desegregation of golf courses in the city.
Persons: Atlanta was still very Southern—a
strange environment for a black professional.
I was the second black attorney at Troutman
Sanders. We were about as rare as hen’s
teeth. There were certain clients who might
not find you acceptable. It’s an adjustment
for some people. I remember one day I was
on a different floor and somebody asked if
I’d fix the copy machine—they assumed I
was the Xerox guy. Xerox had a lot of black
guys, and if you saw a black guy in a suit in an
office building, chances are he was there to
fix the copy machine.
Cooper: I was at the DA’s office for
about five years, and some friends were
encouraging me to become a city judge.
Maynard Jackson, the first African-American
mayor of Atlanta, interviewed me and
told me that if I took the position, one day
I’d become a federal judge. Now I think
Maynard may have been doing some
puffing to convince me to take the job; but if
I ever see him on the other side, I’ll tell him
he was right: I made it to the federal bench.
Moore: When I first became a judge, it was
a time of significant change in Atlanta.
Maynard Jackson was trying to transform
the Atlanta Municipal Court system, and
make it actually reflect justice. Our offices
were former jail cells and latrines, and
there were only two judges at the time,
both white males, both with short judicial
robes so they could get to the guns in their
holsters quickly while on the bench.
Sears: My parents wanted me to be this
nice young woman who could marry a
nice young man and be a supportive wife
and be acceptable. So after I became a
superior court judge, my father was just
floored. He wept. It was not on his radar—
his daughter, black, only 32. It was just
unbelievable for him.
But I’d never had a problem in this
profession. I was always accepted. My
parents worked very hard to prepare me. If
you’re black and female, you don’t get the
grace period. You basically have to run
faster and jump higher, and I think that’s
still very much the case.
Persons: On the other hand, one reason
I’ve been successful is that I know for a
fact I was hired at times because it was
thought I’d play better in front of a black
judge or a mostly black jury. Appealing
to increasingly diverse judiciary and juries
has had a lot to do with my success.
That’s opportunity, that’s the business. I
know how the world works.
Moore: Donald Hollowell, the attorney for
Martin Luther King Jr., and Horace Ward,
who helped integrate the University of
Georgia, were my mentors. I worked for
Mr. Hollowell at the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission when he was
the regional director. Mr. Hollowell and
his wife were so supportive and so proud
of the achievements that we built on
from the groundwork they laid. I feel
so honored to have been able to know
them and touch them, and I try to convey
that to younger lawyers. I always tell
them, “You’re not here because of your
beauty and brains. You’re here because
somebody opened these doors for you.”
For every two steps forward, the
country seems to take one step back.
In some years, more than one.
Moore: At the time I was in law school,
there were six black lawyers in Atlanta;
now there are so many I can’t keep count.
But we still have a long way to go in
the judiciary and the legal profession.
White men comprise 26 percent of the
population in Georgia, but 68 percent of
the judges. Men of color are 22 percent
of the population but 9 percent of the
judges. Women of color are 24 percent of
the population but only 6 percent of the
judges. It’s dismal.
Persons: I think the legal profession has
lagged behind. I don’t think the profession
has lived up to the potential for successfully
integrating minorities into its ranks. We
have a lot of opportunity for growth in that
area. We’ve made tremendous strides, but
we’re not nearly where we need to be.
Taylor: You hear some people saying
things about Muslims or Mexicans or
African-Americans, and it makes me
wonder where we’re going as a society,
and whether or not we’re going to achieve
the dream that this country is all about.
My children and grandchildren are going
to have to live through that. It concerns
me. It’s troubling that we haven’t come
any further after all these years. I’m
hearing some of the same things today
that I heard as an 18-year-old.
Cooper: When I was a young man, I
remember thinking that, based on what
I was seeing, the progress being made
between black people and white people,
we would have full racial equality by the
time I reached 75. I’m 74 now.
Sampson: I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s
poem: the one that says we have promises to
keep; and miles to go before we sleep.
Johnson III with his grandfather (above),
who started the Race Relations Institute at
Fisk, and regularly met with heavyweights
such as Hubert H. Humphrey (right).