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Richardson, Scovel(1912–1982) - Judge, lawyer, educator, Receives Presidential Appointments, Chronology

american african university board

In an outstanding and diverse legal career, Scovel Richardson made a huge impact through his pioneering role as one of the first African Americans to serve in the federal judiciary system and his work in and on behalf of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the larger African American community. He was one of many African American professionals in the legal system who led by example and action during the transition from segregation to integration of blacks into the mainstream of U.S. society, and expanded his influence to national and international levels.

Scovel Richardson was born on February 4, 1912 in Nashville, Tennessee, to M. Scovel and Capitola W. Hawkins Richardson. His family eventually relocated to Chicago, where he attended and graduated from Wendell Phillips High School. Remaining in the state, Richardson attended the University of Illinois, where he received a B.A. in 1934 and an M.A. in 1936. The title of his master’s thesis was “Denial of Justice in International Law.”

In addition to his early intellectual achievements, Richardson was also noted for his athletic ability in boxing during his college years. He decided to pursue a career in law and was admitted to the Howard University law school in Washington, D.C., where he completed studies for his law degree in 1937.

Receives Presidential Appointments

With the election of Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower as president in the 1952 election, Richardson’s national profile increased. The new president appointed him to the U.S. Board of Parole on August 3, 1953. He was the first African American to receive this distinction and made history again when he became the first African American member of the Bar Association of St. Louis in late 1953. Richardson also was the first African American from Missouri to be admitted into the American Bar Association and the American Law Institute, to serve as president of the Urban League of St. Louis, and to belong to the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce.

After resigning from his deanship at Lincoln, Richardson relocated to Washington with his family to assume his new responsibilities. The board had recently been enlarged from five to seven members and given additional jurisdiction over cases involving juvenile as well as adult offenders. One of the most celebrated cases heard by Richardson during his first year on the board involved denying the second parole application of Alger Hiss, a former government official convicted of perjury regarding his relationship with known Communists during the McCarthy era.

On September 28, 1954, Richardson became the chair of the parole board upon the recommendation of Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr. During his years of service, he developed a reputation for being stern, yet kindly and fair to the thousands of prisoners and numerous cases that came before the board. In 1955 Richardson served on an advisory council on corrections organized by Brownell to examine treatment and correction of federal offenders and methods to prevent crime and delinquency. The 1956 report issued by Richardson indicated that the successful parole rate of federal prisoners had remained at 80 percent for the previous seven years, evidence that the system was working well in rehabilitation of offenders.



Born in Nashville, Tennessee on February 4

1934 Receives bachelor’s degree from University of Illinois

1936 Receives masters degree from University of Illinois

1937 Receives law degree from Howard University; marries Inez Williston

1939 Becomes associate professor of law at Lincoln University of Missouri

1943 Accepts position as senior attorney, Office of Price Administration, in Washington, D.C.

1947 Returns to Lincoln as professor and law school dean

1953 Appointed by Eisenhower to U.S. Board of Parole; becomes chair the next year

1957 Appointed by Eisenhower to judgeship on U.S. Customs Court

1968 Elected chair of Howard University board of trustees

1982 Dies in New Rochelle, New York on March 30

The success of Richardson in this role prompted speculation in late 1956 that he was under consideration for a higher level appointment, possibly a judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. This would have made him the first African American to serve at that level in the continental United States, but he did not receive that particular appointment.

Richardson retained his position as chair of the parole board until March 4, 1957, when Eisenhower, upon another recommendation from Brownell, nominated him to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Customs Court in New York City after the death of Judge William A. Ekwall in October 1956. When his presidential nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Richardson became the first Howard University law graduate and second African American to serve on the court, joining Judge Irvin C. Mollison, a Truman appointee. This made him the third African American with the status of Article III federal judge (lifetime appointment based on Article III of the Constitution), and the only African American appointed by Eisenhower to the federal judiciary.

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