Founded in 1979 Association of Black Judges of Michigan (ABJM) seeks the eradication of racial and class bias from all aspects of the judicial process. In 1982 an annual worship service was established, enabling us, as judges, to spiritually gird ourselves anew in our faith and to thank the church for demanding the legal system include African Americans as an integral part of the legal process. Without the church few if any African American judges, past and present, would never have had the privilege to be on the bench.
The history of black judges in Michigan dates back to 1892 when D. Augustus Straker became the first Black judge in the state. Fifty-eight years would pass before Charles W. Jones, a former assistant prosecutor was appointed as a judge in July 1950. In 1954 Wade H. McCree, Jr. became the first black judge appointed to the Wayne County Circuit Court. Judge McCree went on to become the first black judge to win a county wide election by winning not only in 1955 but again in 1959.
Judge Elvin L. Davenport was appointed to the Common Pleas Court in December of 1956; he won election the following year and was later appointed to Detroit Recorder’s Court. That same year, Harry G. Hackett was appointed the first black bankruptcy referee in Michigan and thus the second in the United States. Two years later, John T. Letts became the first black judge elected by popular vote in Kent County; later he was elected to the Kent County Circuit Court. In 1961, Otis M. Smith was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court. Justice Smith became the first black judge to sit on a state supreme court since Reconstruction. Nearly 25 years would pass before Dennis W. Archer would be appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1985 followed by Justice Conrad Mallet in 1990 who was succeeded by Justice Robert Young in 1999. Upon his retirement Governor Rick Snyder appointed Justice Kurtis Wilder in 2017. Justice Wilder lost his retention election in 2019 and therefore today there are no Black Justices on the Michigan Supreme Court and there has never been a Black Woman on the state’s highest court.
In 1966, George W. Crockett, Jr. and Geraldine V. Bledsoe Ford were elected to Recorders Court, Geraldine V. Bledsoe Ford becoming the first black woman judge in the state. On the federal court, Judge Wade H. McCree, Jr. was elevated to the United States 6th circuit Court of Appeals and Damon J. Keith was appointed to the Federal District Court. In the 70’s the number of black judges taking the bench, either by appointment or election, quickened. Among them: Judge Damon J. Keith was elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit; Julian C. Cook and Anna Diggs Taylor were appointed to the Federal District Court; Harold Hood and Myron H. Whals were appointed to the Michigan Court of Appeals and Claudia H. Morcom and Lucile A. Watts to the Wayne County Circuit Court.
In 2002 Hon. Karen Fort Hood was the first Black woman elected to the Michigan Court of appeals and in 2020 she became the first Black woman to serve as chair of the Judicial Tenure Commission In the year 2022 the state of Michigan is still seeing historic firsts as Judge Stephanie Dawkins was appointed by President Joe Biden to the 6th Circuit Court of appeals making her the first Black woman from Michigan and the second African American woman in history, to serve on the Sixth Circuit. And Hon. Teri Dennings was appointed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to the 16th Circuit Court making her the first Black Judge Ever to serve in the Macomb County Circuit Court
With faith and prayer, the black judiciary has come a long way since 1892, but we should not be satisfied with where we are. In the last 60 years there have been more than 230 black judges; while the number in some ways may appear to be unique and impressive, it is far less than .5% of the total number of available judgeships in that period. One doesn’t have to look much farther than the metropolitan Detroit area to see just how underrepresented Black Judges are in the state of Michigan. For example while nearly 40% of the residents of Wayne County are Black, of the 58 judicial seats on the court there are currently only 15 or 25% Black judges. Of the 15 Black judges on the court, only 4 of them are Black men. This means that while Black men make up 22% percent of the population they only represent 7% of the Third Circuit Court bench. In Macomb County while Black people make up 13% of the population there is only one Black Judge in the entire county and in Oakland County where approximately 15% of the residents are Black, there are only two Black judges on the 6th Circuit Court this is a reduction from the 3 black judges that were on the court in 2021. The statistics in the metropolitan Detroit Area highlights why there is still much work to be done by the ABJM to sustain the number of Black Judges and build the pipeline of future Black Judges in the State of Michigan.
(This section is an updated version of our organizational History drafted in 2014 by Hon. Terrance A. Keith, Former President, ABJM)
Judge Kameshia Gant
Circuit Court Judge 6th Circuit Court
Judge Curtis Bell
9th Judicial Circuit Court
Judge Cynthia Ward
54-A District Court Judge
Judge Marlena Taylor
36th District Court Judge
1979-1980 Judge Harold Hood, Founder
1980-1981 Judge Clarence Laster, Jr.
1981-1982 Judge Lucile A. Watts
1982-1983 Judge Donald L. Hobson
1983-1984 Judge Lynne V. Hooe, Jr.
1984-1985 Judge Dalton A. Roberson
1985-1986 Judge Adam A. Shakoor
1986-1987 Judge Cynthia D. Stephens
1987-1988 Judge Alex J. Allen, Jr.
1988-1989 Judge Roy L. Roulhac
1989-1990 Judge Frances Pitts
1990-1991 Judge Wendy M. Baxter
1991-1992 Judge Denise Page Hood
1992-1993 Judge Jacqueline Hall Keith
1993-1994 Judge Craig S. Strong
1994-1995 Judge Izetta F. Bright
1995-1996 Judge Paula Humphries
1996-1997 Judge June Blackwell Hatcher
1997-1998 Judge Jeffery Collins
1998-1999 Judge Karen Fort Hood
1999-2000 Judge Margaret Baylor
2000-2001 Judge Kym Worthy
2001-2002 Judge Wade McCree
2002-2003 Judge David Perkins
2003-2004 Judge Beatrice Pennie Millender
2004-2005 Judge Patricia Jefferson
2005-2006 Judge Denise Langford Morris
2006-2007 Judge Beverly Hayes-Sipes
2007-2008 Judge Edward Ewell
2008-2009 Judge Shelia Johnson
2009-2010 Judge Judy Hartsfield
2010-2011 Judge Cylenthia LaToye Miller
2011-2012 Judge Micheline Rawlins
2012-2013 Judge Leo Bowman
2013-2014 Judge E. Lynise Bryant-Weekes
2014-2015 Judge Terrance A. Keith
2015-2016 Judge Demetria Brue
2016-2017 Judge Debra Nance
2017-2018 Judge Michael Wagner
2018-2019 Judge Austin Garrett
2019-2020 Judge David Braxton
2020-2021 Judge Herman Marable
2021-2022 Judge Qiana Lillard