The Honorable A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. was a celebrated statesman, pioneering civil rights advocate, author, professor, historian and federal appeals court judge.
He served as a special deputy state attorney general, a special hearing officer for the conscientious objections for the United States Department of Justice, and a commissioner on the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission. He was appointed a commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission by President Kennedy, the first African American so appointed on a regulatory commission. He was also the first African American to serve as a trustee at Yale University and a strong advocate for opening the University to women.
After being denied employment by law firms because of his race, Higginbotham founded the first African American law firm in Philadelphia, Norris, Green, Harris & Higginbotham. He later became head of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Philadelphia. Judge Higginbotham was a prodigious writer and lecturer. He wrote two highly acclaimed books, In the matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process in the Colonial Period, and Shades of Freedom. In recognition of his efforts to promote civil rights and human rights, Judge Higginbotham was awarded among others, the Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal.