Before his death Sunday at the age of 73, Memphis native D’Army Bailey was known as a respected judge, lawyer and civil rights pioneer.
Much of that can be traced back to his time at Southern University in Baton Rouge, where he was expelled for leading anti-segregation demonstrations as a student in the 1960s.
“He was an outstanding role model for what a lawyer and what a judge should be — and could be — and what we could accomplish,” Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson said, remembering Bailey on Monday. “He had an impact — not just on the South, not just in Memphis, Tennessee — but nationwide.”
Johnson said she’ll fondly remember Bailey’s “dedication to civil rights, his courage and his willingness to stand up for what he believed was right.”
Bailey, who grew up in Memphis, wrote in his memoir, “The Education of a Black Radical: A Southern Civil Rights Activist’s Journey, 1959-1964,” about traveling to Southern University — one of the nation’s premier historically black colleges at the time — to begin college just as the civil rights movement gained momentum.
“There would have been no 1960s civil rights movement without the idealism and courage of the flower of America’s black community, especially college students like those depicted here,” Bailey wrote in the book’s introduction.
The book highlights how, in his view, Southern’s black administrators and some faculty — fearful of the state’s white political establishment — discouraged student activism and involvement in the demonstrations. Bailey and others who continued their activism were punished. After multiple arrests and a class boycott, Bailey was expelled from Southern during his junior year for failure to “adjust to the patterns of the institution.”
He went on to graduate from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, through a program that offered aid to student civil rights activists. He then earned a law degree from Yale.
Among his most permanent legacies: Bailey had a key role in the preservation of Memphis’ Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and the hotel’s transformation to the city’s renowned National Civil Rights Museum.
Adrienne Bailey told The Associated Press that her husband died after a long illness, surrounded by family at Methodist Hospital in Memphis. “D’Army never thought that anything was impossible,” she said.
Those who knew him said Bailey was always willing to share his story.
“He was so engaging,” said Rachel Carriere, who works at the Southern University Law Center and met Bailey on several occasions. “He was very inspiring.”
Bruce Blaney, a New Hampshire native who now coincidentally resides in Baton Rouge, attended Clark University at the same time as Bailey. He said Bailey’s story was known and respected on campus.
“There were very, very few African-Americans — certainly none that were activists,” Blaney said. “We were just excited that he was there.”
Blaney said he remembers Bailey being a compelling public speaker.
“He had a major impact on conscience-raising at the school,” he said.
A few years ago, in a chance encounter, he ran into Bailey in Baton Rouge — they immediately hit it off and began reminiscing.
“It’s such a loss,” he said of Bailey’s death. “I feel so sad to have a world without D’Army in it. He was just a great guy.”
The Southern University Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution in 2009 formally apologizing for the expulsion.
That same year, LSU Press published his book.
“It was an honor and privilege to work with him on that book,” LSU Press director MaryKatherine Callaway said. “It was really an incredibly moving story.”
She remembered Bailey participating in events for students at LSU and Southern University Law Center.
“He had a charming way of sharing with people and making sure they understood,” she said. “He was so open to talking to anybody and sharing his story,” she added.
In his book, Bailey wrote about learning of a massacre in Sharpeville, South Africa, and how that awakened a sense of activism in him early in his freshman year of college at Southern University.
“In times like these, the routine business of student government is of little importance,” he told a crowd gathered at a student assembly on campus that day. “We should call upon everyone connected with this university to scream out in protest of this ugly, dastardly and criminal slaughter.”
Upon graduating from Yale Law, Bailey went on to practice civil rights law in New York before moving to California. He served on the Berkeley, California, city council from 1971-73.
He later returned to Memphis, where he practiced law before he was elected to a Circuit Court judgeship in 1990. In 2007, he was a finalist to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee Supreme Court. He left the bench to enter private practice in 2009 but was re-elected as Circuit Court judge last year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.