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Steve C.
Democrat TN 9

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  • Congratulating Judge Russell B. Sugarmon, Jr. on Receiving the 2014 Be the Dream Mlk Legacy Award

    by Representative Steve Cohen

    Posted on 2014-01-16

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    COHEN of tennessee in the house of representatives Thursday, January 16, 2014 Mr. COHEN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate Judge Russell B. Sugarmon, Jr. on receiving the 2014 Be the Dream MLK Legacy Award. This special award is given to those individuals whose lives have ``embodied the spirit and legacy of service, sacrifice and hope'' that characterized the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a trailblazer for African-American stewardship in public office in Memphis and a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, it is fitting that this award be bestowed upon Judge Sugarmon in recognition of his accomplishments and contributions.



    Judge Sugarmon was born in Memphis, Tennessee on May 11, 1929, and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis. He attended Morehouse College before receiving his B.A. degree from Rutgers University in 1950 and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1953. He then served in the Army for two years, where he received a letter of commendation for his tour of duty in Japan. Upon returning to Memphis, in 1956, Russell began his work in private practice and later became a founding partner in the Memphis law firm of Ratner, Sugarmon, Lucas, Willis & Caldwell, the preeminent firm for civil and human rights cases. This was the first integrated law firm in the South.

    In 1959, Russell Sugarmon became the first African-American in Memphis to run for a major city office when he ran for Public Works Commissioner. While this race was marred by heavy racial opposition to his candidacy, Russell's tenacity during this campaign paved the way for other African-Americans in Memphis to seek public office. Never one to be deterred by racial injustice, Russell successfully ran for a position on the Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committee in 1964. Two years later, he was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly, becoming the second African-American in Tennessee to be elected to the Assembly post Reconstruction. From 1976 to 1987, Russell was a Referee in the Memphis Juvenile Court System before being appointed to serve as a judge for the General Sessions court. Judge Sugarmon was subsequently elected and re-elected to the bench and held his seat for 20 years until his retirement in 2006.

    Over the course of Judge Sugarmon's life, he has been an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Working alongside notable Memphis pioneers and leaders in the fight for racial justice and equality, including the late Judge H. T. Lockard, Vasco and Maxine Smith, and A.W. Willis, Judge Sugarmon was instrumental in using the courts to desegregate public transportation, restaurants and public facilities. He also made headway in desegregating Memphis public schools. Both the NAACP and ACLU have honored Judge Sugarmon for his contributions to Memphis.

    Judge Sugarmon was often a behind-the-scenes strategist in nearly every progressive political campaign in Memphis, including helping me during my State Senatorial and U.S. Congressional races. I am honored to know Russell Sugarmon as an attorney, a judge, a civil rights leader, an instrument of change and a friend. There is no doubt that his work is worthy of this award named after Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mr. Speaker, I ask all of my colleagues to join me in congratulating Judge Russell B. Sugarmon, Jr. on being awarded the 2014 Be the Dream MLK Legacy Award.

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