This year’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the famous civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, reminded me of our own struggles with race relations in Louisiana during that troubled period of American history.
During the summer of 1960, I was elected city judge of Baton Rouge. Shortly after being sworn in, a black civil rights attorney, Murphy Bell, filed a motion to quash a misdemeanor charge against his client on the basis that his client could not get due process because the courtroom was segregated.
On the morning of the hearing, I instructed my bailiff, Bo Mack, to integrate the courtroom, and he complied. That afternoon, Bell began his argument. After several minutes, I interrupted him and stated, “The basis upon which you make your argument is incorrect. The courtroom is integrated.” He turned around and, after inspection of the courtroom, replied, “That’s not the way it’s always been.” I responded: “That is the way it is now. Motion dismissed.”
I was pleased it was not mentioned in the State Times/Morning Advocate because at the time it would have been a hot-button issue. But later, I was pleased that I resolved the issue that took four years for the Louisiana State Court and Selma to accomplish: desegregation.