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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin Fall 2015

Special Interest Ivy Grimes Retiring Circuit Court Presiding Judge Houston L. Brown Installs Portrait of the late Judge Alta King as Last Official Act Judge Brown presides over Judge Alta King’s portrait installation As his last official act as Presiding Judge of the 10th Judicial Circuit of Alabama, Judge Houston L. Brown installed a portrait of the late Judge Alta King at the Jefferson County Courthouse on Tuesday, June 30, 2015. During his remarks, Judge Brown stated that he wanted to hang the portrait of Judge King as a reminder to young lawyers to live up to the principles of justice embodied by Judge King. As Judge Brown noted, when Judge Alta King was on the bench, the courtroom itself was segregated, and as symbolic evidence of the lack of justice within the legal system, African Americans were required to give up their seats if the courtroom was full. The installation of the portrait in Judge Bentley Patrick’s courtroom (in which Judge King served from 1947-1969) serves as a reminder of the importance of courage in the face of hatred and violence. The recent shootings nationwide and other acts of racial violence demonstrate the incredible dangers of lingering hatred. Judge Alta King stood for justice and equality at a time when few other Alabama judges and politicians did. To understand the climate of the time in which he served as judge, some historical context is important. Much unpunished racial violence occurred in the South in the 1950s and 60s. One case received national attention in Mississippi in 1955 when Emmett Till, a fourteen year-old boy, was tortured and murdered, his eyes gouged out before his death, by two white men apparently punishing him for talking to an older white woman. The case received national attention when Till’s mother had an open casket funeral, exposing the state of her son’s body as evidence. Still, the accused were acquitted. Another famous case from 1964 (documented in the movie Mississippi Burning) involved the conspiratorial murder of three Civil Rights activists, which resulted in minimal sentencing for the perpetrators. Retired Judge Tom King, left, assists in the installation of Judge Alta King’s portrait Many judges feared for their careers (and sometimes their physical safety) when acting against popular opinion and sentencing white offenders in racially-charged cases. Judge King, by contrast, faced difficult cases where he chose justice over injustice regardless of popular pressure. One of the most notorious cases over which he presided involved the sentencing of members of the Ku Klux Klan for their crime of abducting an African American man named Judge Aaron at random, castrating him, pouring turpentine in his wounds, and abandoning him in a creek. Because of the influence of the KKK at that period in Alabama history, the men expected to be set free with minimal punishment. In 1957, Judge Alta King surprised everyone (so much so that he made national news) by sentencing four of the offenders to the maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison. Another difficult case in which Judge Alta King took a strong stance was in the aftermath of the assassination of Albert Patterson. In the election of 1954, Phenix City attorney Albert Patterson won the Democratic primary for Attorney General of Alabama in spite of massive widespread voter fraud designed to favor his opponent. Before Attorneys who practiced before Judge Alta King 28 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin Fall 2015
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