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Bruce M. Wright
This date marks the birth of Bruce M. Wright in 1917. He was a Black judge, lawyer, and poet.
He was born in Princeton, N.J., and raised in Harlem, New York. Bruce McMarion Wright's father was Black, and his mother was white. He was awarded a scholarship to attend Princeton in 1939 but was denied admission when the university learned he was Black. Wright was denied admission to Notre Dame on the same grounds.
He had no trouble entering the U.S. Army’s Infantry Division. But after World War II, he went AWOL, making his way to Paris, where he was befriended by Senegalese poet Leopold Senghor, who later became his country's first president. "I was introduced to him as an American poet. All I ever wanted to be in life was a poet," said Wright, a friend of Langston Hughes. Wright's first book of poetry, "From the Shaken Tower," was edited by Hughes and published in 1944. He then graduated from Lincoln University, attended Fordham Law School, and obtained his law degree from New York Law School.
After receiving his law degree, he worked for the law firm Proskauer Rose, where he represented such jazz legends as Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Max Roach. Wright worked as a criminal and civil lawyer. Mayor John V. Lindsay named him to the bench in 1970. Judge Wright was critical of the judicial system and believed that race and class all too frequently determined the outcome of a trial.
As the General Counsel for the Human Resources Administration in New York City, Wright was a judge in New York's civil and criminal courts. He was elected to the New York State Supreme Court in 1982 and retired on Dec. 31, 1994.
Justice Wright spent 25 years on the bench in criminal and civil cases, gaining a reputation as a scholarly and provocative jurist who sprinkled his opinions with literary quotations. He was the author of a 1987 book, “Black Robes, White Justice,” about the role of race in the judicial system. Wright suffered a heart attack in March 2000 and was made an honorary member of Princeton's 2001 class 65 years after being denied a scholarship because of his race.
Judge Bruce M. Wright, who denounced what he called racism in the criminal justice system and created a furor in the 1970s by setting low bail for many poor and minority suspects, died in his sleep on March 24, 2005, at his home in Harlem, New York, at the age of 87.
His wife, Elizabeth Davidson-Wright, announced his death.