New Bedford Native and Federal Judge George Leighton Dies at 105
BROCKTON - The Honorable George N. Leighton has passed away. He was 105 years old.
According to the Chicago Sun Times, Leighton passed away Wednesday at a veterans hospital in Brockton after a week-long battle with pneumonia.
Leighton was a New Bedford native, born to Cape Verdean immigrants. When Leighton was in the sixth grade, he was forced to drop out of school and work to help support his family. However, Leighton later won a $200 scholarship to attend Howard University, and continued his education at Harvard Law School after serving as a second lieutenant in the Army in World War II.
Leighton spent many years as a civil rights attorney, the first African-American to serve the Illinois Appellate Court, arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford appointed Leighton to the United States District Court, where he served for a decade.
Leighton is survived by two adult daughters, five grandchildren, and eight great grandchildren. Final arrangements for Leighton are being planned.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell released the following statement upon hearing of Leighton's death:
Today we mourn the loss of an extraordinary American and New Bedford native, George Leighton. His 105-year-long life’s journey is a testament to the power of the American Dream, a monument to the cause of civil rights, and an enduring source of inspiration to public service. The son of Cape Verdean immigrants, Judge Leighton grew up near Monte Park, and attended city schools until seventh grade when he left school to work in cranberry bogs outside the city and later as a merchant seaman. Through the help of a mentor, his brilliance came to light of Howard University through an essay writing contest. He went on to graduate summa cum laude and was admitted to Harvard Law School. In 1942, he left law school early to Army, and served as an infantry officer in a segregated unit, and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in the Pacific Theater. He graduated from law school after the war, and moved to Chicago, where for the next fifty years he would lead the advancement of equal rights under the law not only in his adopted city, but for all of America. Along with other legal luminaries, including his friend Thurgood Marshall, Leighton led groundbreaking litigation in the areas voting rights, housing discrimination, police misconduct and school desegregation. He became the first black judge of the Illinois Appellate Court and was later appointed to U.S. District Court, where he served until his retirement in 1987. Judge Leighton received countless honors and distinctions over his career, including the naming in his honor of a state courthouse in Chicago and New Bedford’s main post office. In 2014, I had the privilege of his administering my oath of office, and to have gotten to know him personally. His hometown will miss him dearly, but will continue to be inspired by the legacy of this American hero. I have ordered that the flags at all city buildings be flown at half-staff in his honor.