Reuben V. Anderson made history this month in 1985 when he was sworn is as the first Black Supreme Court Justice in Mississippi. Born in 1942, Anderson was raised in the city of Jackson. As a young man, he befriended the son of NAACP lawyer Jack H. Young.
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Young, who worked on the Medgar Evers case, pushed Anderson to attend law school. After attending Tougaloo College in undergrad, Anderson had designs on attending Ole Miss Law School.
As Black law students across the nation faced a number of barriers regarding the bar exam, Ole Miss was Anderson’s preferred choice as its graduates didn’t have to take the exam.
After facing some red tape and having to briefly attend Southern University’s law school, with Young’s help, Anderson eventually entered Ole Miss, graduating from its law school in 1967. According to his accounts, Anderson found the experience alienating as white law students didn’t view him as an equal colleague, but he did receive assistance and guidance from some fair-minded professors.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund was Anderson’s next stop. He worked with the civil rights organization on a number of significant cases such as desegregation and voter rights matters.
In 1976, Anderson was appointed as a municipal judge for the city of Jackson and by 1981, was promoted to circuit judge. Although Anderson said he loved his job, Gov. William Allain approached him about becoming a Supreme Court Justice. Initially, Anderson said he wasn’t interested and recommended a more experienced Black lawyer, but Allain wouldn’t hear of it.
On January 16, 1985, Anderson was sworn in. It was a sweet victory for the man who once had to show his law degree to prove he could walk inside Mississippi’s segregated courts. Anderson held the post until 1991.
Today, Anderson is a senior partner and commercial litigation lawyer at Phelps Dunbar LLP.
PHOTO: Phelps Dunbar
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