A. Leon Higginbotham enjoyed a long career as a federal judge, achieving a number of firsts over the course of his career. On this day in 1962, Higginbotham was named the first Black member of the Federal Trade Commission by President John F. Kennedy.
Aloyisus Leon Higginbotham Jr. was born February 25, 1928 in Trenton, New Jersey. To support himself through school, Higginbotham worked odd jobs as a butcher and clay worker to help his family. He entered Purdue University, transferring to Ohio’s Antioch College in 1945. Higginbotham was just one of two Black students admitted there at the time, the other being Coretta Scott who would become Coretta Scott King.
Higginbotham graduated from Antioch, then enrolled in Yale University Law School and graduated in 1952. After struggling to find work in Philadelphia, Higginbotham helped form the city’s first Black law firm, Norris, Schmidt, Green, Harris, and Higginbotham in 1954.
Higginbotham, who served as the head of Philadelphia’s NAACP chapter, used his connections to enter public service in 1960. In 1962, he achieved his historic appointment as a member of the Federal Trade Commission. In 1968, Higginbotham was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to join a commission that examined the rash of nationwide city riots, leading to the controversial Kerner Commission Report.
As noted by The New York Times, Higginbotham referred to himself as a “survivor of segregation,” and earned a reputation as a champion of civil and equal rights. When he was named Yale Law School’s first Black trustee in 1969, Higginbotham worked to have women admitted to Yale’s undergraduate ranks.
For 29 years, Higginbotham served as federal judge and varying levels. He is also notable for becoming Philadelphia’s first Black District Attorney. In 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded Higginbotham with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Higginbotham passed in 1998 at the age of 70 in Boston. He was survived by his wife, Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, a Harvard professor, and their four children.
Share your email below to receive our daily newsletter!