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George Leighton, a Black attorney, judge, and activist, was born on this date in 1912.
Raised in New Bedford, MA, George Neves Leitao (his birth name) was the son of Anna Silva Garcia and Antonio Neves Leitao; both were from Cape Verde. It was in school that he got the name "Leighton" as the teacher claimed she could not pronounce his last name "Leitao." His parents, wanting no problems for their son, agreed.
Because his family needed money, Leighton left school before the 7th grade to take a job on an oil tanker in the (then) Dutch West Indies, which is now the Netherlands Antilles. In 1935, as a memorial to the sinking of the USS Nantucket by the SS Olympic, the Cape Verdeans of New Bedford, MA, under the leadership of Alfred J. Gomes, created the Cape Verdean Memorial Scholarship Fund.
In 1936, the first essay contest was held, and two prizes were awarded for the best essays submitted, each for $200. They were to provide initial tuition for the winners in any college. Leighton, seeking to complete his education through a scholarship, won one of the awards.
He gained conditional admittance to Howard University that year and graduated magna cum laude four years later. Drafted into military service in 1940, Leighton became an infantry captain. In 1945, he entered Harvard, earned an L.L.B. in 1946, and passed the Illinois bar exam the following year. He was chairman of the Legal Redress Committee of the Chicago NAACP between 1947 and 1952 and president of the Third Ward Regular Democratic Organization. From 1949 to 1951, he was the assistant attorney general of Illinois. In 1951, he co-founded one of the largest Black law firms in the country, and the next year, he became the Chicago Branch NAACP president.
In 1964, Leighton was elected a Cook County Circuit Court judge and began teaching at the John Marshall Law School the next year. In 1969, Leighton became a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Illinois' First District. After six years, he was nominated as a U.S. District Court judge.
Leighton retired from the U.S. District Court at seventy-five but began counseling at Earl L. Neal & Associates. Leighton has played a leadership role in governmental groups, serving as chairman of the Character and Fitness Committee for the First Appellate District of Illinois and the Illinois Advisory Committee for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
A man with a lifelong passion for the game of chess, Leighton has also participated in civic groups, serving on the board of directors of the United Church of Christ and Grant Hospital. George Leighton died on June 6, 2018; he and his late wife, Virginia Berry Quivers, had two daughters, Virginia Anne and Barbara Elaine.
Image: Jose More
A Just Life
by Robert Lovinger
New Standard, June 13, 1999