Oral History of Judge Inez Smith Reid
July 21, 2005
This is the first interview of the Oral History of Judge Inez Smith Reid, Associate Judge
of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, as part of the Oral History Project of The
Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Devarieste Curry of
The Curry Law Firm PLLC. The interview took place .in Judge Reid’s Chambers at the Carl
Moultrie Courthouse, at 500 Indiana Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.
Ms. Curry: Good morning Judge Reid. The oral history project is designed primarily, Judge
Reid, to add to the archives of the history of the District of Columbia federal
courts. Although you sit on the highest court of the District of Columbia, you
have held significant federal appointments, and the Historical Society wants to
document and preserve your contributions to the federal system. Judge Reid, you
have agreed to having the interview recorded on tape, and to donate the transcripts
and tapes of the interview to the Historical Society ofthe D.C. Circuit. Is that
Judge Reid: That is correct.
Ms. Curry: I want to put on record now that at the conclusion of the project I will ask you to
sign a form indicating that you will be donating the transcripts as well as the tapes
to the Historical Society of the District of Columbia, And, as I’ve also mentioned
to you Judge Reid? you can let me know at some point during the interview, or
even at the conclusion of the interview, your views on whether, and how long, if
you do want your interview to be sealed, you can let me know that then.
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Judge Reid: Thank you.
Ms. Curry: During this interview, I am going to ask you to talk about your service on the
bench here. I am also going to ask you to reflect on the District of Columbia
Court of Appeals and the Judges on this Court as they have intersected with your
career. To that end, you are encouraged, to share anecdotes, aphorisms about, and
reminiscences of, your colleagues and others because such anecdotes and
reminiscences are not likely to be preserved outside of an oral history. But first,
to give context to the full interview, I want to talk with you about how you
traveled from segregated Washington, D.C., and the schools in the District of
Columbia, to service on the highest court in the District of Columbia. So I want
to begin this interview with your earliest memories, and walk through each step of
your development, talking about your schooling, your education, career
opportunities, professional involvement, significant events, and the people who
have shaped your life and influenced you. I want to also talk about significant
court decisions in which you’ve been involved, and the legacy you hope to leave
with the Court. Now that I’ve gotten that brief introductory remark out, and I
wanted to make sure it was comprehensive, let’s begin the actual interview. And
I want to begin with, as I said, your background and schooling, and for the record,
would you please state your full name and date of birth.
I was born as Elsie Inez Virginia Smith, on April 7, 1937.
You grew up in Washington, D.C., but you were actually born in New Orleans,
Louisiana. Can you tell me about the move to Washington?
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Judge Reid: I do not remember the move at all. I thought I came here; I was brought here
rather, when I was 4 years old. My older brother tells me that we all came here
when I was 2. Washington, D.C., was the maternal home, and after my parents
broke up their marriage, my mother traveled back to Washington, D.C., which
was her home, and where her mother and some other relatives lived.
Ms. Curry: Did you have any visits back to New Orleans? Do you have any memory of
spending any time there during your formative years?
Judge Reid: I have absolutely no memory of New Orleans, Louisiana, when I was there as a
child. Later in life I did go to New Orleans just to see the church where my father
pastored, and where I was christened along with my twin brother, but I have
absolutely no memory of those years.
Ms. Curry: Your father was a minister, you just mentioned that. What did your mother do?
Judge Reid: My mother was trained as a teacher, but when she came back here, she obtained a
position in the federal government working in the Bureau of Engraving and
Your mother was trained as a teacher; did she in fact teach any in Louisiana?
I have no idea. I just do not know. I know she taught in North Carolina, that was
probably before the marriage.
Where did your mother get her education?
From what eventually was known as D.C. Teachers College, which is now part of
UDC. At that time it was known as Miner Teachers College. And then I think
she did additional studies in North Carolina, for her Masters .
Your mother also had a master’s degree?
Judge Reid: I can’t remember whether or not she actually got the degree, but I know she
studied toward the master’s.
By the way, what were your parent’s names?
Mother’s name, Beatrice Virginia Bundy Smith. Father’s name, Sidney Randall
Dickerson Smith, Sr.
You said Washington, D.C., was the maternal home, so your mother was born in
the District of Columbia. Where was your father born?
Father was born in Lexington, Kentucky.
Do you by any chance remember their dates of birth?
No, I really don’t.
We just talked about the educational background of your mother. Could you
speak a bit about your father’s education background, if you know?
My father, I’m blocking right now as to where he attended college, but he also
was educated at Howard University Divinity School, where he earned his
Bachelors of Divinity, and then after that, he was educated at the Chicago
Theological Seminary, where he received a Masters of Sacred Theology.
By the way, what denomination is your father, or what was the church that he
Judge Reid: My father was raised in the Baptist Church, Shiloh Baptist in Lexington,
Kentucky. When he met my mother, he switched to the Congregational Church,
and he pastored in the Congregational Church during his career.
Ms. Curry: Judge Reid,is there anything you can tell me about your ancestral history, maybe
the names of your grandparents, or great-grandparents, that you can recall?
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Judge Reid: The one I recall most was the maternal grandmother, whose name was Inez
Childes Bundy Murphy. She married first Mr. Bundy, who was my maternal
grandfather, who had already died when I was born, so I really did not know him,
although he was a baker here in the District of Columbia. My grandmother was
married twice. First, to Mr. Bundy, and then to Mr. Murphy. I didn’t meet Mr.
Murphy either. On the paternal side, I know the name for my paternal
grandmother, but I don’t remember too much, I never met her, and I can’t recall
whether or not she was dead by the time I was born, and I can’t recall anything
about my paternal grandfather.
Ms. Curry: You spoke of your maternal grandmother, and said that your grandfather was a
baker. Did your grandmother work?
Judge Reid: I honestly don’t know. I don’t remember any reference to her working. I know
while we were growing up she remained in the horne and actually cared for us.
How old were you when your grandmother passed away?
I was, as I recall, ih grade, somewhere along those lines.
Judge Reid, you mentioned, or described, what was certainly by the standards
back then, an extraordinary career path for blacks or African Americans. Your
father was very well educated, as was your mother. Your grandfather was a
baker. Do you know if your grandparents were the descendants of slaves, or were
they the descendants of free Negroes, as that term was used then.
Judge Reid: We have been trying to trace the history back. The only thing we know that I can
recall at this moment is that ancestors came to Washington, D.C., some time in
the 1880s or 1890s, maybe earlier, but they carne from Louisa County, Virginia.
And it’s not clear, at least to me, whether or not they were free ancestors or
whether or not they were enslaved.
Are you making any progress on that research?
Whenever we get the time, my twin brother and I are trying to on both sides of the
family, so it will take a little more research.
Were you influenced in any way by your grandmother? You said she stayed
home and kept you and your brothers, were you influenced in any way by her?
My grandmother was a great force in our lives, and helped to nurture my brothers
and me, so the answer is clearly yes. Not only my grandmother, but my greatuncle.
My great-uncle George. George William Childs.
In what ways was your grandmother a great influence in your life?
In overseeing our reading, making sure we got to read. And particularly in
discussing religious precepts with us and the moral standards by which we had to
Ms. Curry: I didn’t ask this question earlier when you mentioned that when your mother
relocated to the District of Columbia, she got a job in the federal government,
what was her job in the federal government?
Judge Reid: I’m not exactly sure. I have a feeling it was some type of clerk in the Bureau of
Engraving & Printing dealing with money. It was not a high-level job because at
that time Negroes were not being accepted at high-level positions, so I think it
was some type of clerk position.
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I know that you have a twin brother, George Bundy Smith, who is an Associate
Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, and you also have an older
brother, Sidney Randall Dickerson Smith, Jr. Are there other siblings?
When my father remarried, he and his wife adopted a son, James Roy Smith.
What was it like then, growing up as a twin, and the only girl? Did you get – let
, me finish that thought – what was it like growing up as a twin, and as an only girl,
because I presume that the brother that was adopted did not live with you.
No. He was younger, and he lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, where my father held
his pastorate for a long period of time.
Ms. Curry: So, back to this question, what was it like growing up as a twin, and as the only
girl, and did you get special treatment?
Judge Reid: Well, what was it like? It was an interesting experience in that with two brothers,
of course, I had to try to keep up with my brothers, and play the games that
primarily that they wanted to play, which meant stickball, football, basketball,
generally the sports that young male children play. Occasionally they would
agree to play jump rope with me, and they jumped rope with me, but a lot of my
time was spent mediating between my two brothers who often clashed. Also part
of my time, I’m told, and I really don’t remember this, was spent defending my
twin brother, making sure he was not hurt in any manner, sometimes even coming
to difficult blows with youngsters who wanted to injure him in some kind of play.
So you were the protector?
We were mutually protective. We all did a lot of protecting of each other. My
older brother played the role of the leader, trying to make sure that we were kept
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in line, especially when we went to school, it was a long streetcar ride into church.
My older brother was generally in charge, but we all tried to be mutually
You mentioned, I know he’s your older brother, what was the difference in the
age span between the twins and Sidney.
It’s about 18 months.
Judge Reid, I want to return shortly to talking about your growing up with your
brothers, but let me ask you, did you spend summers or any time with your father
after your parents separated and as you got older?
No, we did not. In fact, we had very little contact with my father. I remember
really only one time growing up in which he came – actually two times – in which
he came to Washington, D.C., and we saw him then. One was early in my
childhood when we were still children. The second time was I guess when we
were getting close to the teenage years, but we had virtually no contact with my
father when we were growing up ..
Do you know how old you were, or do you remember, when your father died?
My father died after my mother. I believe I was in the second year oflaw school;
I want to say second year of law school.
Did you all attend the funeral?
Actually, he asked us to come down when he knew his health was failing, and we
went down and he in essence apologized for not paying more attention to us.
Then we went to the Kentucky funeral, but not the Corpus Christi funeral.
– 9 –
Ms. Curry: So there was a funeral in Kentucky because that’s where he grew up, and in
Corpus Christi because that’s where his last church was?
Judge Reid: That’s correct.
Ms. Curry: You said your father died after your mother?
Judge Reid: Yes.
Ms. Curry: When did your mother pass away?
Judge Reid: She died when I was in my first semester as a junior in college.
Ms. Curry: I want to talk about how that impacted you, but first let me ask you to talk a bit
about your mother’s influence on your life. We will talk later about the many,
many degrees – advanced degrees – you have, and now having heard you speak of ,
your mother’s training and education, I know she also was very ambitious. So
what was your mother’s influence on your life?
Judge Reid: Well, she supervised our education in large measure. Supervise -in the sense of
instilling the ground rules. Each of us was told in no uncertain circumstances that
we all could not stop our education until we had gotten the ultimate degree, which
was then considered to be the Ph.D. She looked at our report cards, she was a
member, and eventually in elementary school, the president to the Parent-Teacher
Association, so she kept close tabs on what we were accomplishing in our
education. In addition, she kept reminding us of the educational legacy, of the
family, including my father’s brilliance and his devotion to books. And the
necessity about being equally devoted to books, and making sure we were widely
read. There was also emphasis upon our writing skills, making sure we had good
writing skills, and also emphasis upon our speaking skills, making sure we had
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good speaking skills. And I was encouraged at an early age to recite poetry, to
learn and recite poetry, which I did and also to do the oratorical contests which I
did. So basically the priority role she gave herself was making sure we were
properly educated and had the ideals of education in mind.
Ms. Curry: So you’re saying that your mother, even back then, gave all of you all the
injunction that you could not stop until you had gotten the ultimate advanced
degree, a doctoral degree.
Judge Reid: That’s right, and she would get upset if we brought in report cards that did not
reflect our abilities.
Did she demand all A’s, or just that you perform to the best of your ability, which
she knew to be substantial abilities?
Performing to the best of our abilities meant that we should all bring all A’s.
How did your mother enforce her injunctions to you?
Just verbally, constant repetition. If you didn’t want to hear it, then you achieved.
So she was a strict disciplinarian, but there was no need for corporal punishment
or anything like that; you all willingly complied with her desires for you?
Yes. The only kind of corporal punishment I can recall was when my twin
brother and I wandered into the woods near the elementary school that we
attended and the time we got lost. So when we came out, eventually there was
corporal punishment for that, but that’s about the only time Ican remember.
And that was enough to keep you on the straight-and-narrow.
You just described your mother’s influence and education and I want to ask you
about a statement that you made recently in a tribute to your brother that is
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published in Volume 68 of the Albany Law Review. You stated that growing up
in segregated Washington you “were imbued with an understanding of the pivotal
force of education and theological precepts to one’s continuing growth as a
contributing member of society.” I believe you just described for me how your
mother communicated the importance of education, and also your grandmother.
How did they communicate the theological precepts to you and your brother?
Judge Reid: One was by giving us the oral history. My ancestors helped to bring into
existence and to mold one of the earliest black congregational churches here in
Washington, D.C., Plymouth Congregational Church. My uncle was a deacon in
the Congregational Church, and my grandmother was in the Missionary society,
so we were all imbued with the notion that every Sunday morning we had to get
up and make Sunday school and then sit through the Sunday morning service.
We were imbued with the notion that it was not just the spiritual development
here in the District of Columbia, but that we had an obligation to understand the
need for supporting missionaries in places like Africa and India. And that was
part of our moral responsibility, part of the covenant that one made with God. So
just by continuing to insist that we get up and go to church every Sunday morning
,by instilling in us what it meant to go to church and what it meant to belong to a
Congregational Christian Church, that helped instill in us some theological
precepts. My mother always had in mind once she retired to go to divinity school.
She also was one time the superintendent of the Sunday school, so we were all
into the church, if you will.
– 12 –
Ms. Curry: Did your mother actually die before retirement, so she didn’t have an opportunity
to pursue that?
Judge Reid: That’s correct.
Ms. Curry: How did you actively participate in the church? I didn’t ask “did you,” because
what you just described, you must have actively participated.
Judge Reid: Attending the Sunday school services, belonging to the youth groups, sometimes
went to camp — at that time since society was segregated, part of the integrated
experience came through the church — and it was through participation in the
youth groups, so sometimes we were sent away to summer camp, religious camp,
with white children in attendance, and that’s where we got to interact with some
of the white students.
Ms. Curry: Was that by design that you would have that interaction?
Judge Reid: Yes, definitely by design.
Ms. Curry: How did those experiences of going away and having the opportunity to interact
with Caucasian children shape you?
Judge Reid: It drove home the fact that there was a wider world out there, and that the wider
world consisted of people who were different from us. Growing up in a
segregated society, we just had the impression that it was plain black and white
with no differentiation of the white community, except the comer store was run
by a person ofthe Jewish faith, and that was about the extent of the knowledge of
differences in society ..
– 13 –
Ms. Curry: . When you attended these summer camps, what kinds of activities did you
participate in, and was there more or less equality at those camps, or still a
hierarchy, or division, of white and black?
Judge Reid: It was a good, collaborative, integrated experience. The white children were all
very friendly, and we had sing-alongs. We had discussion of missions. We had
discussion of scriptures, Bible verses, things of that sort that youngsters generally
do at religious camps.
Was the housing segregated or integrated?
That’s an interesting question. I really don’t remember.
You and your brothers attended these camps?
You mentioned your parents’ role in the development of Plymouth
Congregational Church .. Is that correct?
Actually it was ancestors. In part, my grandmother, my great-uncle, and their
siblings and people who came before them. I can’t remember all the people who
came before them.
But suffice it to say that Plymouth is a very historical church in the District of
Judge Reid: Yes, that’s correct.
Ms. Curry: And I believe that one time I read somewhere that the famous Todd Duncan either
performed there or was a member there.
Judge Reid: Todd Duncan was both a member and every Palm Sunday he came to sing “Open
the Gates.” He was clearly a legend within the church, and he was very faithful.
If someone asked him to perform elsewhere on Palm Sunday, he would always
tell them “No, I have to go and I’ve got to sing at Plymouth Church.”
So, in addition to actually hearing him sing, did you actually know him?
No, I didn’t know him.
You knew his son Charlie Duncan, I take it? .
I didn’t know him at the time, no. There were other people in the church who
were important, for example, Aubrey Robinson, who rose to the federal court,
sang in the choir at Plymouth.
Are there others that people reading this transcript or record whose names people
It was a church where many of the professional people in Washington went, had
their membership. I can’t recall all the names off-hand, but if! did, they would be
recognized as names today.
Ms. Curry: I believe that church at one time also was pastored by Lawrence Jones who
became the Dean of the Howard Divinity School, is that correct?
– 14 –
Judge Reid: He was Interim Minister there at one point in time, but that was after I had grown
up and actually left the city for education. But Arthur D. Gray was one of the
ministers who was there when I grew up. He later became president of Talladega
College in Alabama.
Ms. Curry: You’ve spoken about your mother’s leadership in the Parent-Teacher Association,
and her leadership in the Plymouth Congregational Church’s Sunday school.
Were your mother and your grandmother involved in any political, social, or
community activities other than PTA and the church?
– 15 –
Judge Reid: As I recall, life revolved basically around the church and the school. But you
have to understand that the church was not just the church, it extended outward.
For example, the church sponsored concerts, and many of the leading artists of the
day carne and performed at the church, and of course we had to go to those
concerts. In addition, people like Benjamin Mays carne to speak at the church.
And we had a number of guest speakers who were doing things in thewider
society, so it was important from that point of view of education and
understanding what was going on in other parts of the country.
Ms. Curry: So in effect, then, the church was where, at that time, within the African
American community, the political, the social, and community activities all
Judge Reid: That’s correct. We led fairly sheltered lives. Our associates were selected for us.
In other words, we just couldn’t go and make friends with Joe Blow on the comer
or Joe Blow in 6th grade. We were literally told with whom we could associate.
That’s how tight and sheltered it was ..
Ms. Curry: Someone reading this record might infer from that that your mother and
grandmother were rather elitist.
Judge Reid: I think that would be accurate. When I was growing up, I had a different word for
it. My word was “snobs.”
Ms. Curry: But nevertheless you acquiesced in their plan for your development, although you
probably didn’t have much of a choice.
Judge Reid: No, I had no choice.
– 16 –
Ms. Curry: You say you described itas “snob,” and some people might view it as elitist, but
you now understand why they had to have such a protective range and control of
your life and plan for your life.
Judge Reid: I suppose. I guess I should also put it in a different way. One of the things we
have to understand is that mother had a light complexion and could have walked
into the wider society on many occasions. My father was very dark. We as
children were somewhere in between.
Ms. Curry: When you say your mother – just so anybody else reading this record – you mean
her complexion was very fair.
Judge Reid: That’s correct. And having grown up in that particular circle, her vision was our
associates should be the same hue. Our vision was, that’s not necessarily so, but
we had to grow up in the household in which we grew up.
Ms. Curry: I’m not sure I quite understand when you say that her view was that your
associates should be the same hue. You don’t mean in terms of complexion, but
in terms of their character and behavior traits.
Judge Reid: No, I mean hue. I mean color. In other words, the lighter the child, the more
likely she would say this is someone with whom you should associate.
Ms. Curry: Now Judge Reid, I want to clarify that point when you said “hue,” I understand
what the term “hue” means, but I want you to be clear on the record. What you
have described, as your mother’s view, was that unique to your mother or was that
a view that was pretty prevalent throughout Washington, D.C., at the time?
Judge Reid: It was pretty prevalent in the Negro community. And within that community it
was kind of a class structure based upon the hue of the skin. And you saw it spill
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over into the school system. For example, when the so-called “better” classes in
the Negro schools in the public sector, you could go into a room and find groups
in that room of the so-called “better” students, a majority of the lighter hue, and
that was just a part of society. The lighter you were, the more acceptable you were
in society, and the brighter you were, and it was irrational in the sense that the hue
of the skin had nothing to do with intellectual ability, but that’s the way in which
the classes were structured. And I remember that as time passed on, some of the
children who were of the light hue, and who were raised to believe they were·
intellectual giants, when they went off to college, it became clear that they were
not intellectual giants, and of course, that injured them. So it’s not something I
think the Negro community should be proud of, but it was the reality of the day in
which I grew up. And to show you how it actually hit home to us, and we only
found this out many years after the fact, but when we were in junior high school,
the valedictorian of my class turned out to be of light-skin color who was the son
of a prominent member of the medical community. Years later, when somebody
actually inspected the record, we were informed that my twin brother actually was
the valedictorian, but he was not allowed to take that position, and instead he was
switched to the salutatorian position. And that was the structure of the society. It
is not imaginable that a person of a darker hue like my twin brother would be
deemed greater intellectually than the lighter hued son of the medical expert.
How, then, did your mother communicate to you, because as I sit here and look at
you, you obviously are not the complexion of your mother, but yet she seemed to,
to use your term, imbue you with the belief and the thought that you could and
– 18 –
would be an intellectual giant. Was there a contradiction in her, in one sense,
kind of choosing for you as friends those of the lighter hue, or saying they should
be your friends, but on the other hand saying to you, who obviously are not of the
lighter hue, irrespective of that, here’s what I know you can do and here’s what I
expect of you.
Judge Reid: I’m not sure we were perceived, I mean it sounds strange, but I’m not sure we
were perceived as being part of the darker-hued community. So in that sense, it
was a clear contradiction .. But nonetheless I think the intent was a meaningful one
in the sense that her experiences in growing up in Washington was not meant to
be used to hurt us because we were of a darker hue. And I’m not sure she even
focused on it because there were too many other things to focus on. And some of
her reaction may simply have been intuitive, and may have been learned. For
example, as we were growing up, and as my grandmother would nurture me, one
of the things that she always did that was very annoying was to pinch at my nose,
and she would say you have to pinch up your little nose, my nose was too flat, and
that constant pinching would make it less flat.
You being her child, you and your brothers being her children, she wouldn’t have
perceived of you as being the darker hue. And you benefited, I suppose, from her
associations also as the children of a fair-skinned person, you would get whatever
benefit that would flow to her.
Judge Reid: I think that was her thinking.
– 19 –
Ms. Curry: Has that phenomenon in Washington, D.C. been written about? I know it’s been
talked about more as a hush-hush and within the African American community
it’s been acknowledged to a certain degree, but has that been written about?
Judge Reid: There was a book years ago, The Black Bourgeoisie. E. Franklin Frazier, I
believe is a sociologist,captured a lot of it in his book, and I’m blocking on the
name of his book, but it has been explored, yes.
Ms. Curry: Now, .let’s move to another area. I want to talk a bit about some of the major
events that were happening in society and how they might have impacted your
growing up or your family, and Iwant to ask right now that you describe any
impact the major wars of the 20th Century – World War I, World War II, Korean
War, Viet Nam War – had on your family, if any.
Judge Reid: World War II was a time in which I was a child, and I have some remembrances,
but mainly the black curtains that had to be placed on the windows when the air
raid sounds went off. And Ialso remember having to save lard, grease, and turn it
in. Iremember the rationing –
Ms. Curry: What do you mean “turn it in”?
Turn it in – Iguess they used it to make soap and things of that sort.
Where did you turn it in?
I can’t remember. Somewhere in the city. We had to save the lard and turn it in
at the point of receipt.
For the benefit of the record, you’re saying lard -l-a-r-d – the grease from pork?
That’s correct. And as the war began to end, in school the schoolteachers would
have the radio on and have us sit there and listen to the radio. There’s only one
relative on the maternal side that I can recall who served in World War II. You
have to understand that war was not something that my family appreciated.
Neither of my brothers went to war; they were not involved. I think they were too
young, they were not involved in Viet Nam. But they were excused for medical
reasons, not because of opposition to the war. We grew up not particularly
appreciative of war, although we understood the need for World War II, because
we bought into the fact that there was a higher calling, and certainly the one thing
that I remember from WWII vividly were those documentaries after the war
ended, and it was clear what the Nazis had done to Jewish people, and that’s
something I will never forget and I don’t need to go to a Holocaust museum to
remember it. They were horrid pictures.
Ms. Curry: You saw them on television.
Judge Reid: No, on the movie reels. Because before the main feature occurred, there would be
the newsreels, and they were on those newsreels. We didn’t have TV when I was
growing up until later in my teen years.
Ms. Curry: By the way, what kind of home did you grow up in Washington, D.C.? Was it a
single-family home, and where in Washington did you grow up?
Judge Reid: The first home I remember is far northeast, 5206 Dix St., N.E. It was a singlefamily
detached home that had no central heating, and it was a home that
accommodated my mother, my grandmother, my great-uncle, and my two
brothers, and myself.
Ms. Curry: You grew up there through high school?
– 21 –
Judge Reid: We grew up there until shortly after my grandmother died. As I recall, when my
twin brother and I were in the ih grade, we moved to 1023 Otis Place, N.W., so
we moved to the northwest sector of the District. I guess you could call it a
And that’s where you lived until you finished high school?
No. We stayed there for I guess a couple of years. At some point when I was at
Dunbar High School, we moved to 4th St., N.W. I’m blocking on the exact
address -1835 4th St., N.W. – but it was in the LeDroit Park area of Washington,
near Howard University, and was actually family property that previously
belonged to a cousin of mine.
Ms. Curry: I want to get back to the effects some of the major events had on your family, but
I neglected to ask, did your mother ever remarry?
Judge Reid: No.
Ms. Curry: Judge Reid, did your parents or grandparents ever discuss the effects ofthe
Depression on them and how it shaped your life?
Judge Reid: Actually not. I don’t recall any discussion about the Depression. Although there
was some discussion of how their home, which was owned on Euclid St., N. W.,
was lost. I think it was the home in which my mother may have grown up or
lived at some point in her life. That may have been connected with the
Depression, but I simply don’t know.
Ms. Curry: You talked earlier about your church being the central focus of social, spiritual,
educational, and community activities. Washington, D.C., of course, is the home
of Howard University. Were there occasions to go onto the campus for any
forums or social or cultural events as you were growing up?
Judge Reid: I spent a lot of time on Howard University’s campus. And also when I was in
high school, I volunteered at the old Freedmen’s Hospital which was near Howard
University’s campus, but the short answer is yes, we spent a lot oftime there.
And we were kind of raised with Mordecai Johnson who was one of the early
presidents of Howard University, and we used to go up, particularly around
graduation time, and listen to the speeches at graduation. So Howard was a very
important influence. And the last place that we lived, when we moved to 4th St.,
was very close to Howard so we could just walk up and be on the campus.
Ms. Curry: So the principles and precepts that you heard there reinforced what your mother
and grandmother had imbued in you.
Judge Reid: Absolutely. And then we – a lot of the professors at Howard had been held up to
us as people who had achieved, educationally speaking.
Ms. Curry: What would you describe as the most enduring memory or legacy of your parents
or your grandmother?
Judge Reid: The most enduring legacy of them? I suppose the hard work and the devotion to
religion and the need to look past this country and keep in mind the need for
mission abroad. They were very determined people. That’s about all I can say.
Determined that we grew up right, determined that we were well-educated. And
determined that we had a religious base.
– 23 –
In addition to your mother and grandmother encouraging you to read by actually
saying take a book and read it, did you often see your grandmother and mother
Judge Reid: Just sitting here thinking about it, I can’t recall. I know my mother didn’t have
time to do much reading, except for the things that she had to prepare Sunday
school lessons for because she worked all day. My grandmother spent time in the
house. My most vivid memory of what my grandmother did outside of the
cooking and the house chores was to sit with her brother, my Uncle George,
listening to the soap operas on the radio. And then she would allow us to read
stories to her.
Ms. Curry: You have described what it was like growing up as a twin and the only girl. I
want to talk a bit more about your childhood and teenage years, especially what it
was like growing up in a segregated city that was also the nation’s capital.
Judge Reid: When you took the – what I remember most is – when you took the streetcarthey
had streetcars back then – and if you went to sit by a white person – on thisone
occasion in particular, I can recall a white lady gave me such a disdainful
look that I really didn’t want to sit there, but I went and sat anyhow. That was the
atmosphere. You couldn’t go downtown to the movie theaters. You couldn’t go
into Garfinkel’s store. You couldn’t go into the National Theatre for a great part
of my childhood. When we went into the department stores, you couldn’tgo and
sit at the lunch counter. If you went into the People’s Drug Store, you couldn’t sit
at the lunch counter. So you were basically excluded from a lot of the places
where the white people went in the society.
So the streetcars were integrated in the sense that blacks or African Americans did
not have to go to the back of the bus as they were in the Deep South.
But otherwise, the city was pretty much segregated as you have just described.
Clearly segregated. Yes. Division I and Division II schools. Division I for the
whites; Division II for the blacks. With respect to clothing being tried on, I don’t
remember ever trying any clothes on in the store. I may have, but I just don’t
What do you mean when you say Division I school for whites, and Division II for
blacks? What does that actually mean?
That means that we had separate lines of authority. All of the black children had
to go to schools in Division II. We had our black teachers. We had a black
superintendent. And all the white children had to go to Division I schools, so that
historically, if! read an obituary, I don’t have to think about whether or not the
person is white or black. I can tell by the school. In other words, if the obit says
“x” went to Dunbar High School, I know that that is a black person.
How did the African American community, the black community, help young
people to maintain their dignity, sense of worth, and faith in the face of that kind
of segregation and discrimination?
Judge Reid: You have to understand that the teachers that we had were all people of high
intellectual development, and most of them were highly educated beyond just the
basic college degree. But their career paths were very limited. Generally, when I
was growing up, you could become a teacher, you could become a doctor, but you
– 25 –
couldn’t look much beyond that. So a number of the black intellectual
community ended up teaching high school in Division II, or junior high school, or
elementary school in Division II. So the teachers that we had were strong
molders of our personalities. When I was going to Dunbar, for example, we were
taught the importance of understanding and learning Latin, French, we were
grouped into a club, for example, one of the clubs was the Coleman Jennings and
Mary Jennings Club, and that was a club in which young women were grouped,
and we were instructed in things like the importance of wearing pearls and things
of that sort. So the school was also a very important nurturing ground in terms of
how one had to act within society, and what one needed to become successful in
I don’t think I can get through this interview without some of my own
commentary. So I have to just comment that you learned the lessons well,
including wearing the pearls. When we had our meeting for the Historical Society
of this Court, you came in your pearls.
I always wear my pearls.
And you have them on today.
That’s correct. Even when I go to the grocery store.
What are some of your memories of your first school, your elementary school?
What was the name of the school? Does the name of the school still exist even
though the school is not still standing?
Judge Reid: Oh no, the school still stands and the name is still there. It’s Colonel Charles
Young Elementary School. All of our schools were named for famous black
Where is that school?
It’s in Northeast Washington, off of Benning Road. Now you have to understand
also about where we lived, which was far Northeast. We shouldn’t have gone to
Charles Young Elementary School, but it was a school that was hand-picked for
us because it was a school that was known as a school that would mold black
children into good intellectually oriented children.
So, when you say hand-picked, again, you mean by your mother?
That’s correct. And the Principal was Martha Winston who was a very hard
taskmaster, extremely hard. Some would say mean. But she drove home her
points. Charles Young was a unique school in that we did what we called change
classes. We couldn’t stay in the same classroom all the time; we rotated around,
and we ended up with teachers whose specialty might have been reading or whose
specialty might have been literature, or whose specialty might have been math.
So it was that kind of school.
ili . And you attended that school through 6 grade. How did you get to school every
day, on the streetcar?
Judge Reid: We went on the streetcar, yes. First we had a long walk to the streetcar, and then
we got on the streetcar and rode up to the school.
What kind of student were you at Charles Young?
I was an okay student. This was a time in which I was an asthmatic so I missed a
lot of school. And I think I started out with Satisfactory progress, and then
eventually, by the time I graduated, I was Outstanding progress.
Do you have a favorite teacher from that school?
There were a couple whose names stick with me. One was Ms. Alfred, and the
other was Ms. Burke. Ms. Burke was a person who didn’t just devote her time to
educating you in secular education. We began each day with a prayer and Bible
reading: Along the way she would also – she was my homeroom teacher – and
along the way she would also give us tidbits. For example, if you were too fat,
she wouldn’t hesitate to say. “You’re too fat, you have to lose weight.” So things
of this sort.
Lessons on how to live successfully ..
Lessons according to Ms. Burke. And then, I don’t know why Ms. Alfred sticks
in my mind, probably because she was a kind teacher, and a very pleasant lady.
But those are the two whose names immediately come to mind, in addition to Ms.
Winston. Ms. Winston played ‘a large role in our lives. I think because my
mother was the president of the parent-teacher association. And she was always·
on our case if we did something that she didn’t think we should be doing.
Did you get any special consideration because your mother was president of the
parent-teacher association, or quite the contrary – there was a higher expectation?
Judge Reid: Oh, I think there was clearly a much higher expectation. Much higher.
– 27 –
Now, Ms. Burke, I believe it is, the one who started each day with Bible reading
and prayer. Do you believe that reinforced what you had heard at home and in the
Judge Reid: Yes, it was a natural progression. Yes.
Ms. Curry: I will ask you later about your sort of philosophy in judging, but there, of course,
is all this controversy now about the role of prayer in schools, even if it’s studentled
prayer and not just in the school, but in any activities connected with the
school. In your judging, if this issue has come before you, or as you have read
about this issue, and being handled by other judges, what is your view on whether
there is a place in the schools for prayer, even student-led prayer?
Judge Reid: When I’m judging, I set aside my personal beliefs, and my goal is to find out what
is the law on the issue. What is the precedent that I have to follow. And that I do.
So I try to separate my personal view from what I have to do legally.
Ms. Curry: But sometimes there, I mean judges look to, as we know from court opinions,
they look to extraordinary – you look through them all, but there are exceptions,
there are all kinds of principles on which one can craft and base a decision so that
at some point that decision becomes the precedent. Roe v. Wade is sort of a good
example of that, and if it were decided today, perhaps they would find that the law
isn’t what they thought. So judges always have a way of looking beyond the
Constitution, or just the case law, and craft an opinion that that becomes the
precedent that somebody’s relying on. And ifso, if you wanted to bring your
beliefs, and say, well I know this is something that would be beneficial to the
– 29 – .
children, it would help shape their lives, and I just don’t think it’s wrong, but I
have to find the right book for that.
Judge Reid: I think, perhaps unconsciously, every judge has a background that is brought to
the table when it comes timeto writing. But that doesn’t mean that your personal
beliefs of necessity infiltrate into your thinking through the law. For ‘example, if I
‘have a First Amendment case that involves prayer in the schools, I don’t
consciously think back to my own upbringing and think well that was a positive
thing. My question is going to be what does the establishment clause say
regarding this issue? What does the free exercise clause say? And how have
those clauses been interpreted through the ages, and what is the precedent that I
must apply? So I think subconsciously there may be something that infiltrates,
but consciously, that’s not the way I approach law.
Ms. Curry: Do you remember what kinds of books you read when you were growing up,
when you were young? We talked a bit about the importance of reading in your
family. Any favorite books stand out, before your high school years?
Judge Reid: I spent an awful lot of time growing up in the public library that used to sit where
the Historical Museum is now, on ih and New York Ave., I believe it is. And I
would go in and I would get virtually any kind of books that would amuse me,
and I particularly liked the adventure-type books .. Whether it was about medical
stuff, medical fiction, or just someone coming through struggles, something that
would hold my interest, and I also loved poetry, so I read a lot of poetry books,
Wordsworth, English poets. More English poets than American poets. And the
classics. We obviously had to read the classics when we were growing up.
Were you introduced to African American writers, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, any of
the other African American —
Oh absolutely. Langston Hughes included, but particularly Paul Lawrence
Dunbar, simply because the high school I went to was called Paul Lawrence
Dunbar High School, I had to know his writings. So we read all of those. We
were schooled rather in the black intellectuals of the day, all of the Renaissance-
Judge Reid, did you travel much as a child, other than vicariously through your
reading and through people that you came in contact with?
I traveled very little as a child. I think the only travel we did, in the summers we
spent part of it in Gaithersburg, MD, with one of my mother’s friends. And then
when we had to go off to church camp. We’d travel sometimes to New Jersey.
Is that where the camps were every year?
Some of them were. They tended to be in New Jersey.
And how did you travel to New Jersey? By train or by car, someone drove you?
I want to say a bus. I have a feeling that a bus was provided for our travel, but I
really don’t remember.
You mentioned traveling to Gaithersburg to visit a friend. I guess at that time
going to Gaithersburg from Washington, D.C., would be considered quite an
Yes, it was considered going to the country, spending time in the country.
What kinds of things did you do in the country?
We helped out on the farm. The woman whom we visited was my twin brother’s
godmother who’d been in high school with my mother, and she was a teacher, and
– 31 –
she was into the church. So it was like more of the same. A structured
Ms. Curry: Did she have children?
Judge Reid: She had one child.
Ms. Curry: Well, at least you had a playmate while you were there. Now, before we talk
about high school, although we interspersed it a bit with our conversation already,
but before we talk formally about high school, is there one memory or event from
your early childhood that was so meaningful and inspiring or pleasant that you
periodically travel back there vicariously now?
Judge Reid: I can’t say that there was prior to high school. If anything, probably in a negative
way. When my twin brother was running track one day, he fell to the ground, and
that was the beginning of a long, long medical episode because they discovered
that he had an extra bone in his hip and he had serious surgery. He was
hospitalized for a long time, ended up on crutches for a long time. And then
ended up with one leg shorter than the other. So in the sense of seeing him come
through that was inspirational and also helps to explain part of my protective
mode. If you’re on crutches, it’s hard for you to defend yourself. So I think that’s
the thing that stood out most in my memory, plus the time in which they
discovered he had appendicitis, in which he was really ill and moaning and
groaning, and they finally took him to the hospital. And just as soon as the doctor
saw him, they rushed into the operating room, and they got the ~ppendix out. As
soon as they got it out, it burst. So that was a close call. So things like that I
remember. And on the positive side, I guess what I often revisit is hearing Todd
Duncan sing “Open the Gates” on Palm Sunday, and I go back there quite often.
Were you and your twin brother ever competitive? You’ve spoken of the bond
between the two of you, and I know now that you two are very close, but were
you ever competitive?
Judge Reid: I can’t say that – I suppose in a sense we were competitive, but I don’t recall. I
mean, as we were growing up, we just found it necessary to stick close together,
including my older brother. So there wasn’t a great deal of competition, although
there was more between my two brothers than myself and my brothers.
By the way, whatis your brother Sidney’s profession?
He was trained as a chemist, biologist, bio-chemist, and his professional career
was spent working for Shering Plough Pharmaceutical Company, and he
eventually was director of immunology for that company. So he’s basically a
scientist. But he’s now retired and attending divinity school.
It runs through the family. Your father was a minister, your mother had an
ambition to do that, and your older brother is now pursuing that. I know you have
an extraordinary family, and I want to talk about them later in this interview. But
right now I’d like to turn our attention to your high school years. You attended –
No, junior high school.
Oh, I’m sorry. I certainly did. I went directly from 6th grade to -let’s talk about
junior high school. Where did you go? Is that school still standing?
Yes, I went to Banneker Junior High School, Benjamin Banneker. It is now a
high school, but back in those days it was a junior high school.
– 33 –
Is that the same location?
Still the same location. That was a very important location for us because we
were not only educated at Banneker Junior High, but we also played tennis on the
courts. They had this great recreational facility, and we spent a lot of time there
playing tennis, in particular, with one of the ministers from Plymouth
Congregational Church, Reverend Jefferson P. Rogers, who played a great role in
our lives, in molding us.
Ms. Curry: Did you have formal tennis lessons?
Judge Reid: No. We just liked to play tennis.
Ms. Curry: What else is significant about your junior high years, and who were your favorite
teachers from that time?
Junior high school. I honestly don’t remember too many teachers from junior
high school. I just remember that we worked fairly hard. One of the teachers
who was there was Ms. Whitehead. Ms. Whitehead-
Thelma Reid Whitehead?
Thelma Reid Whitehead. And that’s in part why I remember Banneker – because
of Mrs. Whitehead. Mrs. Whitehead was married to Dr. Whitehead, and you see
what he’s achieved in educational circles, so it radiated out from there.
Dr. Whitehead was at one time president of Miner Teacher’s College.
Did Mrs. Whitehead teach you mathematics?
I can’t recall what she taught. I just remember that she was an important
Ms. Curry: I actually think that was her subject. For the record, we both know that I knew
her very well. Other than Mrs. Whitehead, are there any others that stand out in
your mind from Banneker?
Judge Reid: Not really. But now to segue into high school, that was an important influence on
me. First of all, I went there without my twin brother because he was sent off.
Ms. Curry: My next question is, I wanted to talk about, you’re ready to go there now, right?
Well, my next question to you is, from recent comments published in the Albany
Law Review in tribute to your brother, you noted that your twin brother, Judge
Smith, attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, while you, of
course, attended Dunbar. Did you feel that your brother was being given a better
opportunity by being sent to an integrated private high school, while you
remained in an all-black high school here in the city?
Judge Reid: No, actually. That thought never entered my mind. I didn’t particularly
appreciate the separation, but I had no sense that he was going to a better school,
because we knew that Dunbar was a great school, and as I went through my
training at Dunbar, we’d talk about the training he was going through at Andover,
I didn’t have the sense that my education was that much inferior to what he was
getting at Andover.
Ms. Curry: Would you talk about Dunbar a bit. Again, for the record, the readers may not
know the history of Dunbar, and why you say we knew that Dunbar was a great
school. Why would you make that statement?
Judge Reid: Dunbar was carved out as the school for young black children who would go on
to college. It was like a college preparatory school. Historically, giants have
– 35 –
gone through the school, including Charles Hamilton Houston, and it was known
as a great place, had great teachers, historic teachers. And they worked us hard.
They worked us very hard. And we were given a classical education. As I said
before, we were grounded in Latin, grounded in French. Our science classes were
good classes. We were particularly grounded in literature, including English
literature. Stress was put on writing, writing skills, and all that, so that by the
time I had to go to college, I spent a year at Howard, and I had to take the
entrance exam to see where I would be placed in terms with my English, and I
was put in the advanced classes. When I transferred later to Tufts University,
they asked me to submit to testing again, to see whether or not I should go back
and pick up first year English classes, and then as a result of my test scores, they
placed me in advan~ed literature. I didn’t have to go back and take all that
English, so we had very good preparation in high school for writing and also in
the literary area.
Ms. Curry: I have read somewhere, or heard, that many of the teachers and instructors at
Dunbar in fact had terminal degrees. Is that true?
Judge Reid: Yes, they were highly educated. Obviously all of them had the basic college
degree, but some also had the Master’s and some also had the Doctorate degree. I
said earlier it was the only place that they could look to for a career, other than
being a dentist or a medical doctor.
We’re going to talk a bit more about Dunbar, but let me askyou about this
separation from your brother. Did you suffer separation anxiety during the first
year of separation?
– 36 –
Judge Reid: I think that’s probably true, but my older brother was there at least for that first
year, because he hadn’t yet finished high school and gone away to college. He
helped a great deal to get me more acclimated to life without George.
Ms. Curry: Dunbar High School is of course famous because so many of its graduates have
made such significant contributions to society. You just mentioned Charles
Hamilton Houston, whose name, I think, any boy, you hope, would recognize.
And I know that Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton was your classmate at
Dunbar, as was Judge Annice Wagner, who is the Chief Judge of this Court. Can
you name any other classmates and their contributions to society, or any other
schoolmates, not necessarily classmates.
Judge Reid: One person stands out in mind, and she was actually one of the valedictorians of
her class, and she stands out because she was one of the first people I saw when I
entered kindergarten at Charles Young Elementary School, and that’s Yvonne
Williams. Her father was Bishop Williams of the Bible Way Church. She and I
were very friendly as we went through school. She’s one who stands out, and she
ended up being in the foreign service for a while, and going on to law school.
And since her father has passed away, she plays a major role in the Bible Way
Church, particularly in terms of the buildings outside of the church, their
apartment house and the grocery store, the supermarket that they have. We had a
couple of fellows – Raymond Johnson and Richard Tyler – who went on to
become doctors. We have a host of people who went on to become teachers. But
the thing that stands out in my mind is that most of the people in my high school
class went on to college, and that was the design. I think they’ve all had
We’re almost to the end of the tape, and given the time, we have been going at
this for well over an hour-and-a-half. We will end today’s session, and we will
begin the next session with your continuing to talk about some of your high
school experience, getting into college, and law school, and some of your other
training after that if that’s fine with you.
Yes, that’s fine. Thank you.
Oral History of Judge Inez Smith Reid