Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2002

Abstract

A path to greatness often begins with a special teacher, and this is such a story. In the fall of 1949, John P. Frank was a new associate professor at the Yale Law School. This story also involves a young student. In autumn 1949, A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., was a first year law student at Yale. Higginbotham, a 21-year-old black man from Trenton, New Jersey, had attended Purdue University and, after transferring, graduated from Antioch College in 1949. Leon Higginbotham was one of three black students who entered Yale Law School in fall 1949. Higginbotham met John Frank when he (ALH) was assigned to take Frank's "Procedure I" course. Higginbotham, who had what Frank later described as "an extraordinary verbal talent," quickly impressed his professor in class, and they became acquainted outside the classroom. Higginbotham started to work for Frank as a research assistant and they became friends. This story also involves an excursion. In early 1950, the Supreme Court scheduled three segregation cases, including Sweatt v. Painter, for oral argument. Professor John Frank decided to attend the oral argument. Although the cases mattered greatly to John Frank, visiting the Supreme Court of the United States was, to him, no big deal. Frank had worked there as a law clerk. He had, by spring 1950, returned there regularly to hear arguments or just to visit friends (with Justice Black heading that list). For Leon Higginbotham, his April 1950 afternoon at the Court was primarily about John P. Frank, the teacher who got him there. Higginbotham shared his memories of the April 1950 trip to the Supreme Court and described his friend as follows: “Professor Frank will always be my professor.... But what was really critical was that he took me seriously.... We had people in our class who were grandchildren of Supreme Court Justices, who were children of Supreme Court Justices, individuals who were Rockefellers, who had power and influence-and John took me in. And I think he helped make me a far better lawyer than I otherwise ever would have been.” Here is the connection, in Judge Higginbotham's words, to a warm afternoon in 1950 Washington, D.C.: “[T]he opportunity that John [Frank] gave me was very important- I've always felt in my days of teaching that I respect the John Franks. ... And if I transmit anything to the many law clerks I see here—all of you know I respect you and love you and admire you as students—it is partially because of the legacy I got at Yale and some extraordinarily wonderful people I met there who gave me confidence that the pursuit of justice is not an inappropriate profession for a lawyer.”

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