Friday Mississippi’s federal judiciary celebrated the appointment of District Judge Carlton Reeves with his investiture at Jackson State University. The vast majority of the Mississippi federal judiciary attended the event, which was marked by several moving speeches about the Yazoo City native’s accomplishment of becoming a federal judge.
Judge Reeves’ former law partner Cliff Johnson served as the
Master of Ceremonies “Special Master” of the the proceeding. Former Southern District U.S. Attorney Brad Pigott gave what, to me, was the best speech of the event. Pigott—who worked with Reeves for many years at the U.S. Attorney’s office and in private practice—noted that Reeves was born in 1964 when white supremacy still ruled in Mississippi. Today, it is hard to imagine how big a disadvantage it was to be born African-American in Mississippi in 1964. Mississippi has come a long way in the last forty-seven years and Carlton Reeves is as good of an example of that as there is.
An emotional Judge Reeves told a humorous and moving account of the first time he entered a law office when he was a teenager. It was the Barbour Law Firm in Yazoo City. Reeves was there to help his mother clean the offices. While his mother cleaned, Reeves played with, and then broke, the copy machine. On Friday, Senior Judge William Barbour, Jr., formerly of the Barbour Law Firm in Yazoo City, administered the oath to Judge Reeves. That may sound like a Hollywood movie, but it’s true.
Following the administration of oath and presentation of robe, Judge Reeves took his seat next to Judge Sul Ozerden. Judge Ozerden’s investiture several years ago was marked by his moving account of his father’s immigration to the U.S. from Turkey with a plane ticket, one suitcase and very little money. I doubt that anyone who personally knew Reeves or Ozerden as they grew up is surprised by their achievements. The story is not that they had the talent to become federal judges, but that they could. Fifty years ago Reeves would have been prevented by his skin color; Ozerden by the fact that his father was not sufficiently ‘good ole boy’ to have a son rise that far, that fast.
Perhaps people who think that things used to be better ‘back in the day’ are wrong. Today, the phrase that “all men are created equal” is more true in this country than it has ever been.
Sadly, Friday’s celebration was followed by the death on Saturday of Senior U.S. District Judge Dan Russell, Jr. of of Gulfport. At Judge Reeves’ investiture, Southern District Chief Judge Louis Guirola spoke of talking to Judge Russell the prior day and conveyed Russell’s wishes of Godspeed to Judge Reeves. Judge Guirola spoke highly of Judge Russell with emotion in his voice. I will reflect more on Judge Russell’s passing in a post on Tuesday.