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Oral History of Judge Inez Smith Reid
July 28, 2005
This is the second 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.
Judge Reid, when we stopped the last time, we were discussing your attendance at
Dunbar High School. In fact, we were just beginning to discuss your high school
years, and I want to pick up with that today. You talked during the last interview
about Dunbar’s rigorous academic program. Will you tell me what kinds of
extracurricular activities Dunbar offered its students?
Judge Reid: There was a whole range of them. I participated in oratory, entering oratorical
contests. I also participated on the basketball team. I worked on the school
newspaper as I recall. So those are some of the things that I can recall that I did.
In addition, I think I mentioned the last time, the Mary and Coleman Jennings
Club that we had at Dunbar, which was kind of a club for young ladies who
excelled and who were thought to have some potential for being the future. We
were, in a sense, groomed for the future.
Ms. Curry: Would you explain a little bit about how you were groomed. That was not where
you were taught – that was junior high – when you were taught about the pearls
and all that, right?
Judge Reid: I think that was high school. I have to go back and check. It was with
Ms. Hundley, the French teacher, and I can easily check when I go home this
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evening whether she was a French teacher in junior .high or high school, I think it
was high school.
Ms. Curry: Would you talk a little bit about why you chose the oratorical activity, and I’m a
bit surprised about basketball.
Judge Reid: I talked about my two brothers with respect to the basketball, and we spent a great
deal of time playing basketball, and it was just a natural part of me. I have always
enjoyed basketball, I’ve particularly enjoyed playing basketball. I used to spend
long hours on the court shooting baskets and developing a long-range shot, so for
me that was simply a natural. Now, the oratory came as early on I was
encouraged to do such things as learn poems and recite those poems in public. So
when I got to high school, the oratorical contests were considered a natural for
me. I enjoyed first of all preparing the speech for the oratorical contest and then
memorizing that speech, and then delivering it. It was just a challenge for me.
Ms. Curry: Did you write your own speeches?
Judge Reid: I wrote my own speeches, yes. And generally they were about some provision
within the Constitution.
Ms. Curry: So you’ve always had an interest in the Constitution?
Judge Reid: Yes.
Ms. Curry: Did you win any of those contests?
Judge Reid: I usually prevailed at Dunbar, and then went on to the district-wide competition
here in the District of Columbia. The first year I came out in second place when
many of the people thought that I had actually prevailed there and there were of
course persons in our community who talked about the racism of the event. I also
werit to district-wide my senior year in college, and I think I came out in third
So, at the district-wide contest, you competed against white students.
Yes, absolutely. All of the high schools in the District sent a representative. And
of course I got the medals from all of that.
Judge Reid, let me ask you again about basketball. Did Dunbar have a girls’
basketball team at that time?
Yes we did, and in fact, I recall that one of my English teachers, Mr. Tignor, took
me aside at one point and strongly suggested that I should not be playing
basketball because the basketball team was not for young women of my caliber,
and Ifound it quite amusing.
And by that, he meant of your academic caliber.
Did you work during high school, either after school or during the summers?
I did volunteer work at the Freedmans Hospital, which is now Howard University
Hospital. I know I did some maid work, and I think that was also in high school,
or it was in junior high school, and I think it continued through high school also.
Was this for whites or for African Americans?
No, actually the one person I remember doing it for was the person who was the.
former principal at my elementary school. I should also say that as I graduated
from Dunbar and went on to college, I spent – and I can’t remember if! started
before I actually finished Dunbar – but eventually I worked as the church
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secretary for the minister of my church, who at that time was Reverend
Jefferson P. Rogers.
Ms. Curry: Your work as a maid for your former principal, that was more or less as a favor to
her? Or did you need the money?
Judge Reid: The family always needed the money. I can’t remember whether or not she asked
for me or whether I was put forward as one who could do the job.
Ms. Curry: I believe you were in high school when the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Bd.
of Education, is that correct?
Judge Reid: Let me just go back to one position I forgot. My twin brother and I did go off to
camp, I think it was two summers, where we worked at that particular camp. And
I did waitressing and maid’s work .as well at that camp.
Ms. Curry: Where was this camp?
Judge Reid: It was up in New Hampshire, on Lake Winnepesauke.
Ms. Curry: How did you get that position?
Judge Reid:” Honestly, I can’t remember exactly, but I think it had something to do with the
church. It may have been through a reference from the church.
To your other question about being in high school when Brown v. Bd of
Education was decided, yes, that is correct. The decision came down in 1954, at
which time I would have been in my second year of high school. I remember the
date vividly because the gong sounded, and that meant that the principal was
about to come on the loudspeaker system. He did, and he announced that the
Supreme Court had decided Brown v. Bd of Education and ruled that the schools
should be desegregated. At the time I was in a classroom of Ms. Bertha O’Neil
who was one of my English teachers, and she just stopped, and tears came to her
eyes, and she made the statement to us ,”Now I can retire in peace.” So it was a
momentous day for us all.
Ms. Curry: You just described one of your teacher’s reaction. What was your reaction to the
decision, and what effect, if any, did it have on your life at that time?
Judge Reid: It did not have any real impact on my life at that time because I knew I would be
staying at Dunbar High School because at that point in time it was closest to the
place that we were then living. In the next year, one white student attended
Dunbar. After they published the statistics in the newspaper indicating the racial
breakdown after the 1954 decision, that one white student disappeared. So I’m
sure his parents must have seen that he was the only white child in the school, and
he was removed from that school.
Ms. Curry: Did you have a sense that your life or educational opportunities would somehow
be changed by the ruling?
Judge Reid: I had a sense that there would be a broader horizon that I might be able to look at.
One of the other impacts that I should mention is a cultural impact. For our
athletic events we had a song that we sang called “Give me that good old Dunbar
spirit” sung to the tune of one of the Negro spirituals. And we were told that after
Brown was decided that that song would no longer be appropriate. So we had to
cut it out of our repertoire.
Who told you that the song would no longer be appropriate?
That came from the principal’s office.
Why would it not be appropriate?
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I have no idea why it was not appropriate.
The African American spiritual that it was sung to the tune of would be “give me
that old time religion.”
Judge Reid: That’s right.
Ms. Curry: Do you recall what the school song was changed to?
Judge Reid: No, I don’t.
Ms. Curry: Even though your brother George was at a different high school, did the two of
you discuss and analyze the Brown opinion?
Judge Reid: I can’t exactly recall, but we must have had some discussion ofthe opinion and
the impact of the opinion and the importance of the opinion. Of course we read
the opinion in some detail, we followed the newspapers. And I guess the burning
question we had was what would be President Eisenhower’s reaction in terms of
the political arm of the American government, would he take a leadership position
in making sure that the country followed the lead of the Supreme Court. And of
course we followed the beginning resistance to the implementation of the opinion.
Ms. Curry: You described the reaction of one of your teachers, but what was the general tenor
among the students and other teachers when the opinion was handed down?
Judge Reid: I think everybody in the school knew that something historic had just happened.
What that would mean for Dunbar was another question. I think there was some
apprehension that things might change and that some of the brighter students who
went to Dunbar would suddenly be farmed out to other high schools across the
town, particularly closer to the homes to which they lived.
Were there any forums or discussion groups at the school or within the black
community to analyze the opinion?
Judge Reid: I don’t recall any such discussions, but there probably were. Right now I don’t
have any recollection.
Was there any kind of celebration at Dunbar?
Idon’t recall any celebration. Just a sense that something momentous had
occurred and we needed to prepare ourselves for whatever direction it would take
You described, a bit, your activities at Dunbar. Did you graduate from high
school with honors?
Judge Reid: I was on the honor roll and a member of the National Honor Society. I was not
valedictorian or salutatorian of my high school class. I guess I should say on the
record that I had what one might call a rebellious streak where I was tired of being
told that an A- was not acceptable and I should always bring home an A. So in
my own way I think I slowed down my momentum in high school.
Ms. Curry: Was there a favorite high school teacher, or someone who greatly influenced your
Judge Reid: There were a number. Ms. Bertha McNeil was one, the English teacher about
whom I spoke a little while back. Also Ms. Brown who was in charge of the
oratorical contestants who was kind of a down-home woman but who always had
the welfare of the students at heart and who wanted students to really excel. My
homeroom teacher, Ms. Herbert, because of her patience especially during a
period in which I was evidencing some desire to rebel against having to perform
at such a high level. I remember one time she brought this little bird to me who
had died and asked me to take the bird home and to stuff the bird so that it could
be a stuffed bird and be on display, which I complied with and actually had a
challenging time stuffing the bird.
Ms. Curry: You’ve talked about your minor rebellious period. One would hardly think that
receiving an A- would be rebellious, but were you required in high school still to
take your report card home and share it with your mother?
Judge Reid: Absolutely. All the report cards went to the home. I can’t remember whether or
not they were sent to us, or whether or not they were given out at the parentteacher
Of course your mother was still very involved in the school.
. How big was your graduating class?
I can’t remember how many students there were, Lean check that for you. But it
was a fairly sizeable class.
Do you recall what caption was reflected in your high school yearbook
underneath your senior picture?
Judge Reid: No I don’t. It probably listed the activities in which I was involved.
Ms. Curry: I had in mind something like “most likely to succeed,” “first African American
woman on the Supreme Court” or something like that. You know how sometimes
those kinds of things are reflected.
Judge Reid: I don’t recall, but I’ll ask my sister-in-law to dig out the yearbook. I no longer
have mine; I don’t know where it is. But I’ll ask her to dig it out and to read what
I’d like you to do that because I would like to know if it pretty accurately
Were you and the Chief friends in high school?
Judge Reid: In the sense that I was friendly with anyone, I guess the answer is yes. We were
of course in the same school and in the same classes, so she was definitely a part
of my high school life. I think there were a couple of other people with whom I
may have had closer relationships, closer in the context that I use that word, not
In high school did you have several sections or just one section?
There was more than one section.
How many were there?
I don’t remember off-hand how many there were.
But it was a large high school?
Yes, it definitely was a large high school. The physical building no longer exists,
but the new Dunbar High School was just about on that site. If you see pictures of
the old Dunbar High School, you see that it is a huge building. Not unlike what is
now Cordoza High School.
We are about to move to that college period. Is there anything else that you
would like to tell me about your experience at Dunbar?
Judge Reid: No, only to emphasize the richness of the academic curriculum. I don’t think: I
was disadvantaged at all by attending Dunbar. Not only the richness ofthe
academic curriculum, but also the dedication of the teachers.
Ms. Curry: Are there any of your high school teachers still alive? Is Dr. Paul Cook, is he
Judge Reid: I don’t know. I know Ms. McNeil died several years ago and I have heard
nothing about the other teachers. I’ll probably find out at reunion. We have a
reunion coming up in September.
Let’s move to college years. When the time came for college, did your mother
have any concern about how she would finance your brother’s and your
education, or did you earn scholarships?
There was always a concern about finances because we knew we couldn’t go
without some kind of financial support. This is one of the reasons why I elected
to go to Howard in my freshman year rather than going directly to Tufts
University where I had been accepted. I worked as the church secretary in order
to save money to be able to go to Tufts the second year. Yes, that was a
consideration because by that time my older brother was at the University of
Connecticut and my twin brother would be going off to college and we knew that
he would get his scholarship aid. But at any rate, there was no money that could
be coming from the home to support any of us in college.
Did you have any financial aid from the college?
I had my scholarship to Howard, which took me through the freshman year and
enabled me to save what I earned as a church secretary for Tufts. When I went
off to Tufts that second fall, I actually had just enough money to get through the
first semester to pay tuition, and then I did well the first semester and the
University, it was a college at the time, put me on scholarship the second
So you had every intention when you entered Howard of transferring to Tufts?
You never entered Howard with the expectation or the intention to graduate from
That was my general intent, to leave Howard at the end of the freshman year.
Although I left open the door to the possibility that I would stay there for four
. years, but then I decided it would be better for me to really try to make Tufts
during the second year. You may ask why you think it would be better.
That was exactly my question.
As I went through Howard, and I enjoyed the year, but as I went through Howard
and took the exams, in some of the courses I was receiving 96, 98, and I didn’t
think that the exams I wrote were worthy of a 96 or a 98, and so therefore I
concluded that I needed a much more challenging atmosphere. And the one
exception was English. I had an English instructor by the name of Miss Pitts and
she worked us to the bone and had the reputation for working students extremely
hard .. She was demanding. So I think her curriculum, the curriculum she gave us,
plus her standard for evaluating that curriculum, was exactly what I needed.
Howard was at one time considered the capstone of the African American
colleges and indeed much has been written about it having the dream team at one
time with some of the best minds in the country there. Is it your sense that things
had changed, or were beginning to change, by the time you arrived there?
Judge Reid: That’s my sense that Howard may have had financial problems, and those
financial problems couldn’t attract the brightest lights of the day. I remember in
one class we were all stunned when the professor came in and simply announced
to the class, “I can no longer donate my services to this University,” and she
walked out, and that was the end. We never saw her again. So I have a feeling
that there may have been some administrative things going on there which
interfered with the academic offerings. But certainly I didn’t have the experience
of being taught by Alain Locke, which was my image of Howard University. On
the other hand, I think that particularly in the English area and the debate world I
had an excellent foundation. I joined the Debate Team, and I can’t even
remember who was the debate coach, but that person was exceptional in terms of
molding a good debate team and we had some very good students on that debate
Ms. Curry: I was actually thinking Alain Locke and others who were there with him when I
mentioned the dream team.
Was Tufts everything you hoped it would be, and ifso, how so, and in what ways
was it not?
Judge Reid: Tufts was actually more than I had expected. I thoroughly enjoyed the three years
that I was there. It was a very challenging atmosphere. At the same time it was
not an atmosphere in which the students were competitive to the extent that they
would tear pages out of the book so that you couldn’t get access to them. It was
an interesting atmosphere. Let me just describe for you my first impression when
I got there. I was actually greeted at the door of my dorm by the Dean of Jackson
College. Jackson College was the women’s part of Tufts University, although the
classes were integrated male/female. The Dean greeted me and escorted me to
my room which was a single room on the second floor of a small dorm hall,
Richardson House. I discovered that there was one other black female in that
dormitory. Within weeks she had moved out because she considered that there
was not room enough there for two black people within the dorm. On the third
floor of the dormitory were housed all Jewish students, which also was another
interesting phenomenon only because at that time the University not only had
very few black students but also Jewish students. But as I got into the academic
atmosphere of the school, it was really great for me. My mindset was to get as
wide an education and as broad an education as I could. Although I majored in
sociology with a minor in psychology, I had a heavy emphasis upon English and
speech and took courses in philosophy, even biology, so I wanted to get as much
as I could out of it. During my time there, I worked in the library. The ladies in
the library were all very kind to me and it was like a second horne for me working
in that library. Extracurricular activities, of course I joined the Debate Team. I
was on the tennis team and played intramural sports at Tufts. But I liked Tufts
because it emphasized not only the need to be educated while we were there but
also the need for continuing education. It also suggested to us that there was a
broader horizon and that was the international horizon that we could not lose sight
of. In addition, it had at that time the Crane Theological School there which was
also satisfying to me because it afforded a grounding that I was familiar with. So
Tufts was much more than I ever expected, and I also was able to work on the
school newspaper as an additional activity.
Who was the black female? What was her name?
The only name I remember was Terry, the first name. Terry Williams, I think it
was. And she came out of New York. I’m not sure what her problem was, but we
of course never did have a close relationship. My closest black student lived in
another dorm, and that was Eleanor Turpin whose home actually was in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I stayed with her sometimes when I was not able
to go home on breaks like Thanksgiving break.
Where did the black student move when she moved out of the dorm?
She moved to another dormitory, I cannot remember which dorm it was, but it
was another one.
Ms. Curry: You mentioned you had a single room. Did all students have single rooms?
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Judge Reid: No, but all black students did.
Ms. Curry: Why was that?
Judge Reid: I think it was part of the setting, the historic setting. It was not usual for Tufts to
have black students then, so we were kind of treated as though it were unusual.
For example, just to give you a feel for it, when I went to meals sometimes,
especially dinner, and we were waiting in the line to get into the dining room,
white students would come up to me, feel my skin, and touch my hair. Many of
them had never been around black people, and as I traveled on the Debate Team
to places like Maine arid Vermont and New Hampshire, people in the town would
just stop and stare at me and it was explained to me that some of those folk up
there had never seen a black person.
Ms. Curry: So although you were considered an oddity in some respect, you feel that you
were treated fairly.
Judge Reid: Generally, yes, I was treated fairly at Tufts. The one thing that bothered me a
little bit was that I had to almost lean over backwards in making it clear that I was
African American, a Negro, born in the United States. Often people would say
“where are you from,” and I would say Washington, D.C., and they would say,
“No, where are you really from, are you from India?” So it was like they were in
denial that I as a black American could come to a place like Tufts and excel.
Well actually, Judge Reid, there’s a bit of that still going on in the country. The
blacks who excel are generally believed to be from the West Indies, and they
certainly started that with Colin Powell and some of the others, so I think it still
goes on even today.
You mentioned that there were only a few black students at Tufts. Do you know
how many black students were there when you were there?
Judge Reid: In my class there were three women – myself, Eleanor Turpin, and Terry
Williams. Males, there was Basil Ince, who was from Trinidad. He excelled
academically and in track. And there were a couple of other fellows, I think some
did not finish, but there was no more than a handful, not even ten.
Have you and Eleanor kept in touch?
I actually lost sight of her 20,25 years ago. But I know she taught History, I can’t
remember if it was at Howard, someplace close by, but then I lost track.
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Ms. Curry: What, or who, were some of the major influences on you at Tufts?
Judge Reid: Professors, I would say in the Sociology department, there was one, I’m blocking
on his name, but he was a major influence on me academically speaking, and then
there was a second sociology professor, but the one that I have in mind, I sat in
his Social Problems class when I was there, and he was on a unit dealing with
segregation, and he made the comment that segregation was functional, and I was
astounded by the comment and I immediately challenged him which is something
I don’t often do, and I said, “Well to me, it’s dysfunctional.” He looked at the
blackboard and he thought for a while, it was clear it was the first time he’d ever
thought that maybe that theory was not an accurate theory. And from that
moment on, he became like an academic mentor for me, and I remember taking
Social Theory from him one year and it was just a delightful course. We went
into a number of theoretical writings and sat around discussing those writings. So
he was one. The Dean, Katherine Jeffers, the Dean of Jackson, was also very
important to my life. She was the person who saw that after the first semester I
was placed on scholarship. The tragedy of it all was that in my senior year, as I
was going off to defend my senior thesis, I learned that she had committed
suicide. So that was a blow. I’m not sure how I got through my senior thesis
defense. She was very important. The ladies in the library with whom 1worked
were also very important for me. And then I had a couple of friends, actually
three students there, with whom I still remain friendly to this day. Susan Nichols,
who was the daughter of a Geology professor; Judy Dallas, who was from
Greenfield, Massachusetts, and Liz Bantel, who was from New Jersey. And the
interesting thing about Liz is that she had German ancestors, and I remember one
year she invited me home, and her father never came into the house while I was
there. I found that very interesting and telling. But whenever I went to Judy’s
house, both of her parents were very welcoming people.
A couple of questions, for the benefit ofthe record, can you spell Eleanor’s name? .
I wanted to ask you about the professor whom you challenged. Were you
surprised that he responded positively rather than negatively in response to your
Actually I wasn’t because I pictured him as a very thoughtful, highly educated
person, and I was not surprised by his reaction. I was happy about it, but not
Ms. Curry: You mentioned three women with whom you formed life-long friendships.
Where are these women now, and what are they doing?
Judge Reid: Sue is in Florida. She had to retire because she has some kind of an ailment, so
she’s no longer working. Judy, I think, is close to retired. She taught math at
community colleges up in New Hampshire. Liz retired early. She manages a
family portfolio. She also, I think, was a math major and she worked for A&T, I
think, for a number of years.
Ms. Curry: I would like you to talk a bit more about your experience at Tufts because what
you described is a faculty and an administration that were open and welcoming,
but a student body that in some respects saw you as an oddity. Were most of the
students at Tufts from the New England area or from all over the U.S.?
– 55 –
Judge Reid: I would say that the vast majority were from New England, although there was a
heavy contingent from the New York area and just a few from the mid-Atlantic
states. I can’t recall anyone from the Deep South, it was basically New England,
and there were also some day students from Massachusetts.
Describe the student body at Tufts in terms of the major interests of the students.
That might be hard to describe. There was a group there that was interested in
law, and an even larger group that was interested in medicine. In fact a number of
the young men went to Tufts because they wanted to go to Tufts Medical School.
The women generally had sights on a teaching career, ifthey had any such sights.
A few were also interested in law and medicine, and some just wanted to mold
themselves to be good homemakers. So it was a fairly diverse student body in
terms of interests.
Ms. Curry:· I asked you earlier about the atmosphere for blacks at Tufts when you were there.
Could you talk now about how the faculty and student body responded to the
national events of the day, such as the civil rights movement.
Judge Reid: As I recall, at Tufts there was not that much of a discussion of what was going on
nationally. We were more into what was happening internationally. You have to
get the picture of Tufts being within a larger community, and by that I mean Tufts
was surrounded by other academic institutions. Harvard had a great influence on
Tufts and we got in as instructors some people who also taught at Harvard, and
sometimes there was an exchange, especially in international relations, and I
remember that there was a great emphasis upon what was going on internationally
– 56 –
-.:R:. ussia, China, etc. – and less of an emphasis on what was going on nationally
with respect to the civil rights movement.
Ms. Curry: You mentioned earlier your college thesis and I didn’t ask at that time and want to
ask you now, what was your college thesis about?
Judge Reid: I honestly cannot remember the name of the thesis as we sit here, but that’s
something I will check and have for you the next time. My vague recollection is
that it had something to do both with unions and with the role of blacks within the
unions, but don’t hold me to it. I will check and have it for you the next time and
we can talk about it.
In the recent tribute to your twin brother that was published in the Albany Law
Review, you stated that while home from college during the summer of 1958, you
and your brother George had an opportunity to attend an argument in the Supreme
Court on the case of Cooper v. Aaron, a Brown progeny that examined whether
acts of violence spawned in the wake of the mandate of Brown were sufficient to
constitute a legal basis to suspend the court’s order to integrate public schools in
Little Rock, Arkansas. Would you describe how you came to attend that ‘
Judge Reid: You have to understand that at this point in history, the resistance to Brown v. Bd
of Education was building and you would see pictures of the reactions in the Deep
South where some of the individuals, the mothers, fathers, what have you, and the
exaggerated fears that were captivating white people in the South, and there was
violence. So as the violence began to escalate, I guess George and I developed an
even greater interest in what was going on. Then when we heard that the Little
Rock, Arkansas case, Cooper v. Aaron; would be heard by the Supreme Court, we
naturally, with George’s leadership, wanted to see if we could get in to hear that
argument mainly because Thurgood Marshall would be one of the attorneys who
would argue the case. So that was a meaningful experience for us if we could get
in. So we arrived at the court very, very early and ultimately we were fortunate
enough to get into the actual Supreme Court hearing, and I think we sat there kind
of mesmerized when Thurgood Marshall got up to speak because, as I recall, no
justice on the Supreme Court interrupted him during his argument, and it was
simply an eloquent argument. I can’t tell you word-for-word what he said, but the
impression he left was a long-standing impression that it was just an excellent job.
Ms. Curry: Did you share that experience with anyone at college when you returned?
Judge Reid: I really can’t remember. I’m sure I discussed it with someone, but I simply can’t
You graduated from Tufts in 1959, magna cum laude, so is it fair to say that the
education and preparation you received at Dunbar prepared you well for the
academic program at Tufts?
Judge Reid: Yes, I think that’s definitely fair to say, and as I emphasized before, when I
arrived at Tufts, Tufts found out that I had not taken the basic English 1 course at
Howard, which is the Composition and Writing, so they asked me to sit for an
examination so they could determine whether or not I could skip and go right into
the advanced courses and begin English Literature, and I was able to satisfy them
that I had the capacity to go directly into the English Literature courses and I did.
I think Dunbar prepared me exceptionally well for Tufts.
– 58 –
Let me ask one other question about your attending the Supreme Court argument
in Cooper v. Aaron – did you have a chance to meet Mr. Marshall that day or any
of the lawyers?
Was that your first time attending an argument in the Supreme Court?
Yes. It was the first time, I think, that I had ever been in the Supreme Court,
although I used to study at the Library of Congress which is right next to the
Supreme Court. Not physically attached, but next to it.
I’m going to ask you later to focus on your reaction to the events of the 1950s and
1960s, but now I want to ask, other than the Brown opinion and attending the
argument of Aaron v. Cooper, are there are other major events during your late
teens and early 20s that helped shape the person you have become?
I guess I would have to say that the impact of the death of my mother when I was
first semester, junior year in college had a lasting impact because it signaled the
fact that we were now all independent, meaningfully independent.
Your mother’s passing away signaled that you were independent, but how else did
it impact you, and did it impact your studies at all?
Yes, in a sense that it became more compelling to do exceedingly well and to
carry out the mandate that we had been given to continue our education until we
had reached which was then deemed to be the pinnacle, and that is to get the
Ph.D ..and it was clear that the road would not be an easy road but that it had to be
Had your mother been ill before she died?
She had a sudden massive heart attack. We always knew that she had a heart
problem, but this was totally unexpected.
Who contacted you?
Fortunately, my older brother had, after he finished the University of Connecticut,
returned home and enrolled in the graduate program at Howard University, so he
was there in the house. And, unfortunately, George was over in Paris studying.
He was still in college? Where did George attend college?
He went to Yale.
So he was there on a semester program?
He was there for a year.
I know that your mother’s passing was hard on you, but I suppose it helped a lot
that you had a strong bond with your brothers.
Absolutely. We wouldn’t have gotten through it without each other.
I know you served on the Board of Trustees of Tufts University from 1988 to
1998, and I know also that Tufts honored you for that by bestowing the Tufts
University chair upon you, or I suppose that is what it did. What is a Tufts
University chair, or what does that honor mean?
Judge Reid: It signals the end of one’s tenure as an active trustee, and the chair is given to you
as a token of thanks in recognition of the long years of service that you gave to
Ms. Curry: Has your college recognized in any other way your accomplishments, that is by
inviting you to speak or bestowing an honorary degree upon you?
Judge Reid: I have the Tufts University Distinguished Service medal for my career work. I’ve
been asked to speak at Tufts on a number of occasions, and in fact have spoken
there. And in addition, I have mentored some of the students from Tufts
University. For example, two or three summers ago we had James Christian
Blockwood, an African American student who was actually the Student Body
president to come and to be an intern in my office for a summer. That was a very
Ms. Curry: What’s the ratio of African American students at Tufts now?
It’s a much higher ratio than when I was there, but it is still small. And in fact
while I was a trustee, this is something that we tried to work on repeatedly to
increase the size of the class of African Americans, and that has now been
accomplished. There are many more in the classes going through now than there
were even when I was on the Board of Trustees. I can’t give you hard numbers.
My recollection is that it was probably less than 5-10%.
I didn’t ask – I made an assumption – but I’d like to know for the record. Of
course you had no African American professors when you were at Tufts?
When I was at Tufts, there were no African American professors until my senior
year when we got in a psychology professor, Bernard Halstead. But by that time
it was too late for me to take him for any class. He subsequently left and became
president of City College of New York. And before that, he rose into the higher
administrative positions at Tufts University. So he did very well.
Do you know what his background was when he came to Tufts?
No I don’t.
– 61 –
Ms. Curry: How many African American professors are there now?
Judge Reid: There are not that many. There’s Gerald Gill, who seems to be the mainstay.
And there may be a couple of others. There was one, Pearl, I’m blocking on her
last name; I’m not sure that she’s still there. But I had met her in professional
Ms. Curry: How is it that you came to be appointed to the Board of Trustees?
Judge Reid: That’s a good question. I’m not sure I recall how I came to be appointed to the
Board of Trustees at Tufts. No, now I remember. I went on first as an alumni
trustee. In fact, Steve Vermeil, who now teaches at American University’s
College of Law, and he used to be a reporter on The Wall Street Journal, came to
me and asked me if I would stand for election as an alumni trustee.
Ms. Curry: Is he black or white?
Judge Reid: He’s white. I stood for election and actually was elected to the Board of Trustees.
And then, when my term as an alumni trustee ended, the Board asked me to stay
on as what was known as a Charter Trustee, and I did stay on as a Charter
Ms. Curry: Do you have any particular area or responsibility as a Trustee?
Judge Reid: I was on the Academic Committee and on the Finance Committee, and also I
served on the Search Committee to appoint one of the presidents after Jean Mayer
Ms. Curry: Am I correct that one of Mrs. Thelma Whitehead’s – your junior high school
teacher – one of her children attended Tufts?
Judge Reid: Matthew Whitehead attended Tufts.
Ms. Curry: That was after your time?
Judge Reid: No, we overlapped, I think by one or two years, because I remember he always
reminded me that I had tutored him in Philosophy and got him through the
Philosophy course. So we were there at least for one, maybe two years, together.
Matthew was just a total delight, just full of confidence, very bright guy. So I was
happy to have him on the campus.
Judge Reid, can you tell me – is there anything else you’d like to tell me, ratherabout
your experience at Tufts before we start talking about-your law school
Judge Reid: I would mention some contests which I entered; they were both poetry reading
and oratorical contests, and those were very important because they were held in
the chapel of the University and the citizens around the University were invited to
those contests. One of the things that never ceased to amaze me was the reaction
of some of the community people. Obviously some of them had not heard a black
person speak so we’d get these comments like, “Oh, this is eloquent,” and that
surprised me because, when you think of New England, you think of the people in
New England as being well-bred and sophisticated people, but that was a good
experience for me entering those poetry reading and oratorical contests, and then
winning some of the prizes.
Ms. Curry: What would be the general reaction of the students that you were competing
against when you prevailed and they did not?
Judge Reid: They didn’t seem to have a problem with it because I just had the reputation of
being a good debater and a good speaker while I was at Tufts University. In fact,
– 63 –
I think sometimes the students bent over backwards in trying to shield me from
whatever they thought they were shielding me from. I remember when it came
time for determination of who would become a member of Phi Beta Kappa, one
of the students who also studied Social Theory with me was very upset that I was
not announced as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. I don’t know what kind of inside
information he had, but he said to me that you should have been a part of Phi Beta
Kappa and he actually made his feelings known to the administration. The
thought never entered my head to be bothered by not having been elected to Phi
Beta Kappa; I was just happy to be coming out of Tufts at all, let alone with
honors on the Honors Program.
Ms. Curry: You graduated magna cum laude and obviously did very well; what were the
requirements to be admitted to Phi Beta Kappa?
Judge Reid: I have really no idea, and I really didn’t have the interest to get into it. I simply
thought that if I had a shot at it, which I wasn’t even sure of, that it may have been
complicated by the fact that I didn’t spend my freshman year at Tufts, so I never
looked at it as something that was trumped up that I didn’t get to become a
member of Phi Beta Kappa, it just was not on my radar screen.
Ms. Curry: I never asked this question: How is it that you came to decide that it was Tufts
that you wanted to attend after high school, because you said that even though
you went to Howard for one year, you always intended to go to Tufts.
Judge Reid: The short answer is that while I was working up at Lake Winnepesauke at Geneva
Point Camp in New Hampshire, I met students there who spoke to me very highly
about Tufts, and my interest in Tufts was piqued because of that. So I applied
there, but before I could clear the way for it, I had to satisfy my mother that I
really didn’t want to go to a place like Wellesley College, which in my own mind
I had pegged as a fairly snobbish school for wealthy young women, and I
defmitely was not interested in going there. When I went to the interview for
Wellesley, it confirmed my worst fears. The lady who interviewed me was a
white lady, obviously from the genteel southern society, and it was clear that she
didn’t think I should go to Wellesley, and I certainly didn’t want to go, so I think
the interview that I had with her, if nothing else, made it clear to Wellesley that I
just didn’t want to go to their school. So I actually was rejected from there. So
that paved the way for me to go to the place where I really wanted to go to.
What did this interviewer do to make it clear to you that she didn’t think you
should be at Wellesley?
Judge Reid: Emphasized, I guess, some of the social settings and the type of people who were
involved with Wellesley. And you have to understand that this contrasted very
strongly with interviews that I had with Tufts. It was actually Dean Jeffers who
came to my high school to actually interview me for Tufts. I considered it very
unusual to have the Dean come down and personally conduct the interview. That
cemented, in my mind, that Tufts really was interested in me as an individual, and
that that was the place for me.
And you were not disappointed?
No, not at all. And then when I was working in the library, I actually got into
some of the archival material for Tufts and it was interesting to see the
correspondence with the then-president of Tufts and Booker T. Washington and
– 65 –
the encouragement that that then-president gave to Booker T. Washington and his
efforts. So even though Tufts did not seem to be aware in terms of the time that I
was there or become involved in the history of the day, it was clear that
historically the University, the College, had actually been interested in some of
the historic efforts of noted African Americans. ‘And Jester Hairston, I later
learned, graduated from Tufts College.
Ms. Curry: What was your job in the library?
Judge Reid: My job was checking in new acquisitions and going through and checking in the
periodicals, so I got to see new books as they came through, periodicals and
magazines as they came through. It was just a marvelous job to have.
Ms. Curry: Did most of the students work?
Judge Reid: No, most of the students did not work at Tufts.
Ms. Curry: How is it that you came to see the correspondence between Booker T.
Washington and the then-president of Tufts?
Judge Reid: I was assigned to do some arch,ival work. I can’t remember exactly what it was.
But to look at some old documents and to put them into shape, categorizing them,
putting them in some kind of chronology.
Ms. Curry: Before we actually talk about your law school experience, tell me why you
decided to attend law school?
Judge Reid: The simple reason is that when I was a senior, my twin brother George came to
Tufts and asked me to go to law school with him. At that time, I was thinking in
terms either of going to graduate school in Sociology, English, or going to
Divinity School, so it was his influence that led me to go to law school.
There were no lawyers in the family at that time, were there?
No, we didn’t have a single lawyer in the family.
But Divinity School, as you yourself were thinking of heading off to, placed very
prominently in your family?
Growing up, did you personally know any lawyers although there were none in
Just by sight. I think I mentioned that Aubrey Robinson, who later was elevated
to the federal bench, was in the choir at my church. And there was another
lawyer, Mr. Ferrell, who also sang in the choir. And as Iread historical
documents, of course Iread about the great lawyers at Howard University and
otherwise around the District of Columbia.
Ishould also mention, because Idon’t ever want to lose sight of this, but
Ms. Clotille Houston, who was a part of the Houston family, was a member of my
church, and she always took a great interest in me. She was one of those kind of
petite, very well-dressed, sophisticated African American women who delighted
in talking with young people about the future.
And the Houston family that you’re referring to is Charles Hamilton Houston?
And would you spell her name for the record.
When you entered law school in 1959, it was after Brown, but during the time
efforts were being made to give full meaning, or fuller meaning, to the term All
men are created equal. Did the events of the day influence your decision to
attend law school in any way, or was it strictly George’s influence?
Judge Reid: It was George’s influence on me. Of course, I guess subconsciously the events of
the day did had an impact, plus I read Clarence Darrow’s book, Attorney for the
Damned, and had read about the Scottsboro Boys case, so I had a general interest
in what was going on legally with respect to the African American community.
Ms. Curry: You attended Yale Law School, but you applied to and seriously considered
attending New York University Law School because it offered you a modest
scholarship. Why did you choose Yale? Was that George again?
Judge Reid: Yes, George told me that I should not give up the opportunity to go to Yale Law
School, and even though I might not have the financial wherewithal, he would
assist in whatever way he could. He had a wealth of scholarship money, so there
was no doubt that he would get through with his scholarship aid.
Ms. Curry: How is it that George came to have so much scholarship money? You also had
done exceedingly well in college.
Judge Reid: Keep in mind that once George went to Phillips Academy at Andover; he was
earmarked as somebody who was going to go far, so his name was fanned out to
the money sources, if you will. Once he went to Yale College, of course, even
more of those foundations and scholarship agents found his name, and it was not
surprising to us that he had his choice of scholarship money. Now keep in mind
also that this was a time in which women were not readily accepted in law school.
So it was a more difficult path in terms of finding people who were willing to
provide you with scholarship money to go to law school if you were a woman.
– 68 –
Ms. Curry: How did you finance your law school education?
Judge Reid: I had enough money with loans to get through the first semester, and then the
second semester again, I was given scholarship aid to get through after they saw
my first-year grades.
So you did very well first year?
The first year I did well and didn’t care after that. The first year I ended up in the
top quarter of my class.
Were you and George competing?
No, we generally didn’t compete. It was more like being mutually helpful. I’m
sure competition slipped in subconsciously, but generally, no.
Ms. Curry: What was it like to be a black student, who also was female, at Yale at that time?
Judge Reid: First thing is you couldn’t live where the men lived, that is in the dormitories at
the law school. There was a dormitory for women graduate students at Yale
which is about three or four blocks away, and all the women students had to stay
in that dormitory, so I stayed there the first year, and then the second and third
years I lived in my own apartment in the city of New Haven. You have to also
understand that we had separate facilities, like a lounge area and bathroom area,
they were all separate. We had a key that opened a door that led downstairs to our
lounge and our bathroom areas for women. I guess there were about 5,6 other
women in my law school class, and George and I were the only African
Americans in that law school class. So that gives you a picture, and also we had
at least one professor at Yale who would only hold his class where women could
not go. I can’t remember the name of the club restaurant where he held the class,
– 69 –
but it was well known that if you were a female, there was no use in signing up
for that class because you couldn’t attend the classes. I remember also one
professor, a property professor, who delighted in coming in every morning and
saying “Gentlemen,” and looking directly at the women. It was still rare in those
days for women to be a part of the law school class, and even rarer for African
Americans to be a part of a law school class.
I guess these tactics by those male professors were designed in some way to
intimidate the women.
Judge Reid: Right, and to totally, thoroughly discourage us. But we also had a few other
African Americans in class ahead of me and the classes behind me, and a few
other women students.
Who were the African Americans in the classes ahead and after you if you can
Judge Reid: Jean Cahn was in class ahead of me. Jean Cahn, as in Jean and Edgar Cahn. And
Edgar, who is a white man, was studying at the time, and I remember we all sort
of found him daunting because he was not only working on a law degree, but also
on a higher degree at the same time. So it was Jean Cahn, and then behind me
came Eleanor Holmes Norton, Eleanor Holmes at the time. And then Marian
Wright at that time, now Marian Wright Edelman.
So you beat Eleanor there by a year.
Yes, because Eleanor went to Antioch on a 5-year program. And there was Harry
Dodds out of New York City. Clayton Jones. His brother was a famous Baptist
minister. Clayton Jones was ahead of me. And Harry Dodds was ahead of me.
So there was a small community of black students. And behind me also was Jim
Thomas, who for years served as an Associate Dean of Yale’s law school. He
went there and stayed, and Timothy Jenkins, an international businessman/lawyer
who later became interim president of UDC.
Ms. Curry: You and Eleanor had graduated from high school together. Did you form a bond
Judge Reid: We shared an apartment at Yale. When she came to Yale we were roommates
and shared the apartment for two years, until I graduated.
Ms. Curry: Did you become her mentor, since you were a year ahead of her?
Judge Reid: Eleanor doesn’t have mentors.
Ms. Curry: So it’s fair to say then that the African Americans who were there during the time
you were there, those before, the ones after, have all done very well, and their
names are names that anyone well-read would recognize.
Judge Reid: I should mention Pauli Murray. Pauli Murray was a major force. She was in a
graduate program, the masters program, when we were in law school, at least part
of the time. Pauli used to gather us around, especially the females, and we’d chat
about the events of the day and she would give us her philosophy and some
insights. It was good to have her around because she was also grounded in the
religious tradition, and then went on ultimately in her life to the Episcopal
And has written some great books too.
Yes. Song in a Weary Throat. Proud Shoes, is another one.
Did you have any female professors at Yale Law School?
– 71 –
Judge Reid: Contracts Professor, Ellen Peters, in my first year at the law school, a very
demanding person, who is now on the Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Did you do well in her class?
Surprisingly well, yes, because Contracts is exceedingly difficult, but I did
manage to do well in her course. I should also tell you – you asked about finance
– I should tell you that I worked while I went through law school, even though the
Dean didn’t want me to. I actually worked at the library – the New Haven Public
So you actually worked during the school year?
I definitely worked during the school year, at the New Haven Public Library, and
then I also found another way of making money which was typing papers and
briefs for students, which was interesting. And I also operated the switchboard.
How many hours did you work, would you say, per week?
I can’t even remember anymore, but it was not less than 20 or 30 hours a week.
Yes. And then the other way I’d save money is by getting out of the full meal
contract. Yale served people just too much food – breakfast, lunch, and dinner –
and you didn’t need all of those meals so I got out of dinner. I never ate dinner at
the law school.
So what would you do for dinner?
I had a sizeable meal at noon, and I kept – it sounds funny now that I think back
on it – but in my dorm I kept ajar of peanut butter and crackers, and that’s what I
had for dinner, peanut butter crackers with a soda.
After all, you did have a junior high school teacher, I believe, who indoctrinated
you that one shouldn’t be fat.
Yes, that was elementary school.
So, of course, that was in your mind.
Indeed. In peanut butter there was no sugar.
We learned that much from George Washington Carver.
I asked you about female professors. Now I don’t believe Yale had any African
American professors in law at that time, but I could be wrong. Did they?
No, we had not a single African American law professor.
You described a bit some of the antics of your male professors. What was the
general reaction of the male students to female students?
Judge Reid: Some of the young men accepted the women and others thought it probably was a
waste of time for them to even think about coming to law school, but you just
ignored those who didn’t think you belonged. Your acquaintances were those
who thought you did belong.
Ms. Curry: Do you think the reaction of the male students, that that was a reaction to you as a
female, and not to you as an African American?
Judge Reid: Yes, now I should just mention one incident. I can remember being in a Torts
class with Professor Guido Calabrasi who is now on the federal bench, Second
Circuit. One student in my class had graduated from the Citadel in South
Carolina. He made this comment in class that the KKK was nothing more than a
social club. I must say that I was astounded, but to his credit, Professor Calabresi
– 73 –
beat me to the answer, and he engaged the student for quite a while, as I recall, on
that subject, so once Professor Calabrasi finished, there was nothing that I had to
say about the incident. Some of the southerners brought of course the southern
culture and traditions to law school with them.
How were the other male students, particularly, again, given the time you were
there, just as the nation is becoming conscious of the need to grant greater rights
to African Americans.
Judge Reid: Some were very friendly. This fellow, Jim Turner, I think he may have been from
Texas, somewhere toward the southern or southwestern part of the country, was
extremely friendly to us. I guess the one person I would single out as being
exceptionally helpful to my twin brother and myself was Jim Freedman who rose
to become president of Dartmouth College. He was extremely helpful, he would
point us to sources that we could read, he would even study with us. And after
law school, he and George became roommates in New York as young
Judge Reid, one point about your law school classmates. You mentioned Jean
Camper Cahn, and you mentioned her in connection with her husband Edgar
Cahn, Ijust wanted to confirm that Jean and Edgar are the two that founded
Antioch Law School, is that correct?
Yes, that is correct. And they were co-Deans of the law school for years.
Were they married? You mentioned her as Jean Cahn, was she married to Edgar
when she came to Yale?
When I arrived at Yale they were married, yes.
Ms. Curry: Did you participate in a study group while you were in law school, or were you
working too much?
Judge Reid: I did not participate in a formal study group at law school. As I mentioned earlier,
Jim Freedman was very helpful to my twin brother and myself, and he used to
point out things that we could read, so I kind of followed his lead, but I never
belonged to any study group. One of the things that prevented it was having to
Ms. Curry: When you say he pointed out things you could read, you mean law books?
Judge Reid: Or even Law Review articles. For example, I recall we had a course in future
interests, which was a very complicated course, and as we were preparing for the
final exam, he brought to us this very helpful article in one of the law journals and
we were able to read that and get a greater understanding of the course itself.
You mentioned the African American women who were at Yale while you were
there, and their names are names that one would recognize, or could easily
ascertain information about them. Do you recall any of the white women who
were there when you were there?
Judge Reid: One in particular, that’s Carolyn Dineen, who later became, in fact she just
finished her tenure, as Chief Judge at one of the federal courts in the Texas area.
She and Jim Randall, who were married, I don’t think she’s with him anymore.
Carolyn Dineen certainly was one of the bright lights. The others I can’t
remember by name.
Ms. Curry: Who were your most compelling or outstanding professors, and why?
– 75 –
Judge Reid: I think Guido Calabresi would have to be at the top of the list, not only because he
was a great professor in teaching Torts and in conveying an understanding of
Torts, but simply because he’s just a wonderful human being. Lou Pollak also
was a memorable professor. Lou Pollak had a great sense ofhurnor, and he
would spend time giving us a flavor of that humor in little tidbits along the way.
One thing in particular I remember is he gave us a story about World War II when
he was selected for some elite training and only the brightest people in the country
were selected, and he was often asked why he couldn’t do better, and I can’t
remember his exact response, but it was like well, you’ve got all these highly
intellectual people together, somebody still has to corne out at the bottom. He
was just a wonderful delight.
Ms. Curry: Judge Reid, I want to continue discussing your law school experience. How did
having your twin brother at Yale affect your law school experience? Did his
presence make it easier for you to navigate your way through what would have
been, perhaps for a woman at that time, a lonely and difficult dream?
Judge Reid: I think it certainly did. Also helpful was the fact that he had already spent four
years in New Haven at Yale College, so he knew the ropes fairly well, and it was
extremely helpful to have him there; it gave me a greater sense of security and the
belief that if he got through Yale College then we could both get through Yale
Law School. .
Ms. Curry: Where was Sidney at the time?
Judge Reid: He was here, in Washington, continuing to pursue his Ph.D.
Ms. Curry: How often did you three get together?
Every time we could make it back for vacation, or during the Christmas holidays.
Had Sidney married at the time?
I can’t remember when he got married. I think it was before we finished law
Before deciding to attend law school, you surely must have had some thought as
to what the experience would be like. In what way was your experience in law
school alike or different from your expectation?
Judge Reid: Actually, I really had not focused on law school, so I had no real expectations,
except I knew it would be difficult. There were two people in my college class,
– 76 –
Tommy Baer, and I’m blocking on the other one who lives in Virginia now-
Jim Calhoun, who also went to Yale Law School. Actually there were three of us
who ended up there, because Neil Peck was also one of those from Tufts who
ended up at the law school. We knew it would be difficult, but we didn’t know
how difficult it would be or exactly what it all would entail. We knew that Yale
was going to be different from Harvard, if stereotypes had any weight whatsoever,
or if the oral traditions had any weight. That is, that it would not be competitive
in the sense that our classmates would tear the pages out of the books. Rather, our
classmates would be more helpful to us. But in terms of the actual classroom
experience, I had no thoughts whatsoever about that.
What kind of relationship did you have with your fellow classmates from Tufts?
The, “Hi, how are you?” type ofrelationship. Nothing deep, but it was good to
see a familiar face at Yale.
– 77 –
Ms. Curry: Have you kept in touch with those three persons since graduating from Yale Law
Judge Reid: I’ve lost track of them. The one I used to keep the closest touch with was
Neil Peck, and I haven’t seen or heard from him in years.
Ms. Curry: You and your twin brother traveled to Africa with Operatiori Crossroads Africa
after your first year at Yale. Could you describe how you came t~ participate in
that program and your experience that summer.
Judge Reid: I’m not quite sure how we first learned about Crossroads Africa. I know George
was looking for a way for us to get over there, and he may have actually been the
one who discovered Crossroads Africa. It may even have been because of
Reverend William Sloan Coffin who was a Chaplain at Yale College and who led
George’s group over to Guinea. That was a marvelous experience. The idea of
Crossroads Africa was to take a group of young people, kind of a pre-Peace Corps
type initiative, and spend a summer working in Africa building schools, recreation
centers, or what have you. So I traveled to Senegal while George went to Guinea
and we actually built a school in Senegal, and it was a great experience. It was an
interracial group; there was one other black person in my group, Burnis Lewis,
and as I recall the rest of them were, I think there were two other black men, I
think I was the only black female, and the rest were white people. But it was a
great experience getting into the culture of Senegal and actually doing the
physical labor, laying the bricks and what have you.
Ms. Curry: Where did you stay while there? What kind of housing accommodations did you
Judge Reid: I want to say that we stayed either on the campus or near the University of Dakar,
at their campus. I don’t exactly remember. And we were assigned someone from
the government of Senegal, a young man who worked with us, and then there
were others from Senegal who also worked with us . …
Ms. Curry: Senegal is a French-speaking country. How did you manage to navigate your way
there during your stay?
Judge Reid: At that time I understood some French, but I was not fluent in French. That’s one
of the experiences that prompted me to try to brush up on French, conversational
French, which I was able to do. We had translators, and some of the people spoke
English, like those who actually were in charge in Senegal spoke English with us.
Ms. Curry: Since you and your brother had different assignments, you didn’t see your brother
then during the summer?
Judge Reid: No, once we left New York, I didn’t see him until the end of the summer.
Ms. Curry: Did you all try to contact each other?
Judge Reid: No, there were no efforts whatsoever. That would have been very difficult,
because I didn’t know where in Guinea he was, and he didn’t know where in
Senegal I was.
Ms. Curry: Did -you go to other African countries? I believe the Gambia is close to Senegal.
Judge Reid: We never got to see the Gambia, although we passed through. We traveled from
Dakar to the Casamance region of Senegal. To get to the Casamance region, you
have to cross over the Gambia. But we did not actually visit the Gambia. That
was a great experience. It was troubling for some people because actually
everybody in the group got extremely ill except for Burnis Lewis and myself.
We’re the only ones who didn’t fall ill that summer. People were trying to figure
out why it was that we didn’t get ill and everybody else got so ill.
Did you ever discover why they got ill? Was it the food, or what?
I’m not sure what it was.
Did you visit Goree Island while in Senegal?
Goree was very important. Yes, we did go to Goree Island, and we actually went
into the places where the slaves were placed in waiting for transport to the other
world. It was daunting, and it was a memorable occasion to actually go into the
places where the slaves waited for transport.
Do you recall if you had any special emotions when you first went to Africa,
being on the actual soil of Africa?
Yes, in the sense that there was an ancestral connection somewhere along the line.
What that is, I have no idea. But obviously some of my ancestors had to come
from Africa. I was exceptionally well received by the Africans, and of course,
they wanted to know about the civil rights struggle in the United States. And ,in
fact, they called upon me to actually give a lecture before the end of the summer
on the civil rights movement here in the United States. Most of the young
Africans with whom we associated were students also, so they had a keen
intellectual interest of what was going on in this country. And to translate, as we
had some very good conversations with them.
You were called upon to give a lecture on the civil rights movement; is that
because you were the only African American in that group?
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Judge Reid: Actually Burnis Lewis was African American, but I’m not quite sure why I was
called upon. I think it may have been that our group leader designated me as the
one to give the lecture. I was with Professor Marcum, out of Colgate University.
I didn’t mean that in any disrespectful way, because obviously anybody who’s
ever been around you would appreciate your keen intellect and that you are very
well read and conversant on issues.
Oh no, I didn’t …. It was Professor Marcum.
Did you know him before you went on the trip?
No, it was the first time I ever met him. He’s a very nice man.
Did you keep in touch after that?
For a little while. In fact, George and I went up to Colgate to speak to one of his
Did your experience in Africa at that time prompt you to return within a few
years, as you did and which we will talk about?
Clearly, yes. I knew when I left that I would go back.
Let’s continue with your other experiences at Yale. Did any of your professors
reach out and try to mentor you?
Not really. There were some very kind professors. I can’t say that they reached
out to mentor me. I think there were some who had an interest in me and where I
was going, but not in terms of being a mentor.
How did you divine that they had interest in you?
When we went to the Inc. Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund –
“We,” meaning you and your brother George?
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Judge Reid: Right. There was a professor at Yale who specifically wanted us to work on a
project that he was working on with the Fund, and it had to do with property
interests and property rights, trying to breathe more life into substantive due
process, due process clause. So the first summer we were there, we spent some
time working on research with respect to his project. Charlie Reich, who
subsequently published an article in the Yale Law Journal, I think it was called
the New Property Rights or something like that.
Ms. Curry: Did he assist you and your brother in any way in getting a position with Inc. Fund,
Judge Reid: I’m not sure he did. I’m pretty sure that we got the position because of George
and his scholarship connections.
Ms. Curry: You said no one reached out to you to try to mentor you; did you seek a mentor
and experience rejection; or you just never thought of that?
Judge Reid: My mentor at law school was George, so I didn’t see a need to reach out to any of
It’s wonderful having a brother as a mentor. You received the C. LaRue Munson
Prize, and the Public Defenders Cup while in law school. Explain why you
received these honors.
Judge Reid: As I recall, both were the result of my pubic defender work. I actually did work
for the public defender while I was in law school, assisting the public defender
with research and actually with trial work, although I didn’t get up in the court
and do arguments. I helped prepare the public defender for trials. One in
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particular I remember, was a rape trial, and we ended up getting a not guilty
verdict. But it was for my public defender work, both prizes.
Ms. Curry: Was this an unpaid or paid internship?
Judge Reid: This was unpaid, it was volunteer work.
Ms. Curry: You have done a tremendous amount of writing since law school on a broad range
of topics which we will explore later in the interview. Did you have any
particular research interest in law school?
Judge Reid: Everyone at that time who went to Yale Law School had to write a major paper
before leaving law school. It’s called a Division Paper, and I did write it. I did
research on Patuxent Institute in Jessup, Maryland, and the treatment of persons
Ms. Curry: How did you come to decide on Patuxent Institute?
Judge Reid: I cannot recall how I decided to do research in that area, and I can’t even recall
what I finally ended up having as my thesis of that paper. At any rate, I did the
work, and I remember visiting the Institute and interviewing people there while
working on the paper.
Ms. Curry: Were there any particular courses or other law school interests or activities that
made a lasting impression on you?
Judge Reid: I suppose it would be the time that Malcolm X was at the law school. He actually
visited and lectured at the law school, in the auditorium, and that was a
memorable occasion having him as a guest lecturer at Yale Law School. It
generated a lot of interest in the law school; it was very well attended. He was a
very eloquent man.
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Was this before or after he had had a metamorphosis and rejected some of his
Judge Reid: I want to say it was after. I can’t exactly remember. I actually met him in New
York, and I can’t remember ifit was before or after he lectured at Yale. So that
stands out in my mind as an outstanding occasion.
Ms. Curry: Surely not just because of his delivery, but because ofthe substance of his
Judge Reid: The substance of his speech, plus the historical context, with people comparing
him to Martin Luther King and many preferring Dr. Martin Luther King because
they perceived Malcolm X as being more militant, if you will.
The other thing about my Yale days that had a lasting impact on me occurred not
at Yale proper but in the community. I elected not to attend the Battel Chapel,
except occasionally. Instead I attended church in the community, at the Dixwell
Avenue Congregational Church, and became part of that community. I also
served as kind of an advisor to a youth group there, which was very interesting for
Is that an African American church?
Yes. Reverend Edmonds was the minister. Actually, that’s where I met
Lawrence Jones. He was at the Divinity School when I was at Yale.
I want to talk to you about that, but first I want to go back to, you said you
actually met Malcolm X in New York?
I can’t remember the circumstances other than I met him.
But it was at some public event, and you had an opportunity to meet him?
Judge Reid: I can’t remember ifit was at a public event, or I sought him out.
Ms. Curry: That raises the question, when you say you can’t remember if you sought him out,
did you have an opportunity then to have some extended discussion with him?
Judge Reid: At this time in New York, I know I had an exchange with him, but I can’t
remember the substance of it.
Ms. Curry: Other than Malcolm X, who were some of the prominent persons who spoke or
lectured at Yale during your time there, and did you meet and interact with any of
Judge Reid: To this day, I know there were others, but Malcolm X is the only one I can
remember. I do remember that for the moot court competition, we had all of these
bright lights of the Bar corne in. And one of the people who judged one of my
moot court events was Thurman Arnold of Arnold & Porter fame. He made an
impression on me, not only because he was kind of a nice, witty man, but because
he always had this drink in his hand, and he wasn’t paying much attention to it, so
you had to make sure that he didn’t slosh that drink on you while you were
standing there talking to him.
Ms. Curry: What about Malcolm X’s speech appealed to you? What made it so compelling
that you remember it perhaps even to this day?
Judge Reid: Probably it was the context of the Nation ofIslam and the fact that this was a
community that was trying to become independent in all respects from a value
code for black people down to an economic agenda, so I think that’s what actually
attracted me to him and made it so memorable because he would spin out his
theory of economic development and also the value code, the moral code, for
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African Americans, and give you a sense that it was possible to be independent,
Ms. Curry: Did you feel there was any inherent tension within yourself in embracing his
theories and philosophy on the one hand but yet embracing those of Martin Luther
King Jr. on the other hand?
Judge Reid: Inever really found that tension because Igenerally took what Ithought Ineeded
from each, so that tension was absent for me. To me, they were different men.
Ms. Curry: Iasked the, question because you know, of course, there was that existing tension
with~.JIThelarger society; how much of it was created by the media and how much
Judge Reid: That’s true.
Ms. Curry: What were the great issues of the day that law students at Yale wrestled with in
forums, discussions, debates, articles in school papers or journals that you can
Judge Reid: Clearly it was the civil rights movement and trying to get those schools
desegregated in the South, that was very, very important as a topic of discussion.
The other part had to do with the shaping of the Supreme Court by Earl Warren,
and not only the civil rights cases, but also the criminal procedural cases. So
those two areas were generally very strong areas for the law school. Also, within
the. courses, there was a tendency to try interdisciplinary courses. For example, I
took Family Law. Not only a professor in the law school taught us, but also a
sociologist. And Law & Psychiatry. It was not only a professor in the law
school, but a psychiatrist, that taught the course.
Ms. Curry: Do you recall your law school standing?
Judge Reid: At the end, no. I know it was not as high as the first year, but I don’t remember.
In fact, I never found out because I wasn’t interested.
You felt like you got a solid education at Yale?
There’s no doubt about it. And I was just happy that I had gotten the degree, and
not only that I got the degree, but I got it the same time George got his.
[Laughter] Always important.
What did it mean not having your mother there to witness your law school
Well there clearly was a gap. But one of the godmothers was at each of the
Who was your godmother?
My godmother was Emily P. Alexander, who lived here in Washington. George’s
godmother was Ethel Jones, who lived in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She came to
my college graduation. She was the representative ofthe godmothers at my
college graduation. My law school graduation was attended by Sidney’s
godmother, Roberta Smith, who was married to a doctor in New Jersey. She
attended our law school graduation.
So these godmothers actually took seriously their role as godmother to the
children, so much so that the sibling’s godmother would show up at your
Judge Reid: Yes. They had an assignment which was to see us through. Right after my
mother died, my godmother stepped in. In fact, I stayed with her – she’s the one
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who found us an apartment to live in, and I actually stayed with her over the
Christmas holidays until we found an apartment. They were specially handpicked.
Had your uncle with whom you grew up, your grandmother’s brother, I guess he
had died also at the time?
Judge Reid: He died after she did. He was in a nursing home when he died. I’m not quite sure
. Judge Reid:
what illness he had. I think he was, he made it to about 82, but he had an illness.
He always had an illness because his hands would shake. It’s like Parkinson’s
Disease, but at that time they didn’t call it Parkinson’s.
Did I ask whether your mother had siblings or not?
She’s the only child.
You’ve described your work during law school, the various jobs that you had as a
means of earning money to help see you through law school, but you worked for
the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for three summers after law school, is that
You did not work forLDF while in law school.
I don’t think so. I may be wrong about that. Maybe I did intern in ’61; I don’t
think I did.
Did you make any friends in law school that have had an influence on you and
with whom you’ve kept in touch?
Probably the classmate I kept in touch with the most is Alan Dershowitz. Alan
actually went to Brooklyn College and I first met him on the debate circuit. He
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was one of those individuals with whom I kind of associated while in law school.
And then afterwards, I kept some contact with him. I remember one time he
invited me to come up to Harvard to do some work up there that at the time I
didn’t have the interest.
Ms. Curry: Are you still in touch with him?
Judge Reid: I see him occasionally, but it’s been a while. Sometimes when we go up to the
reunions, I’ll see him.
You described your work with the public defender’s program, your internship.
Did you have any other internships, or did you participate in any moot court
activities while in law school?
Judge Reid: Yes I did participate in moot court. In fact, after the first year I was selected as a
moot court advisor and advised first-year students with respect to moot court. I
also competed – in fact I think I came down here to Washington once for a moot
court competition. We didn’t prevail. I think it was over in the U.S. District
Ms. Curry: There was the three-member team?
Judge Reid: There were two of us.
Ms. Curry: And, what’s your reflection of that experience? I suppose it was a natural
extension of your oratorical experience in high school and your debate experience
Judge Reid: It was a good experience. I don’t think I did as well as I could have with the
argument, but it was a good experience. I certainly enjoyed it.
Ms. Curry: How did one compete for the moot court team?
Judge Reid: It had to do with class standing to enable you to become a moot court advisor, and
then once you’re a moot court advisor, you could participate in these things.
Ms. Curry: So one did not have to write a brief and go through a series of moot court
Judge Reid: I think it was based upon how you did in the moot court brief and the moot court
argument that you would be selected as an advisor. I should also mention that in
my – I think it was my senior year – I competed in the Barristers Union, and
actually I was a finalist in the Barristers Union final trial of that year. And it was
memorable to me because the judge was Edward Bennett Williams, and that was a
Ms. Curry: What was the Barristers Union?
Judge Reid: That was a trial advocacy union. We had to do a trial. I can’t remember if! was
plaintiff’s counselor defense counsel. I had a partner. It was a great experience
and it enabled me to see how taxing litigation can be.
Ms. Curry: Was there an evolution in your general social and ‘political philosophy during law
school? And if so, could you describe that evolution and your general philosophy
by the end of law school.
Judge Reid: I can’t say I had a general philosophy. I just knew there were. a wide range of
things in which I was interested in, and the challenge would be trying to fit
everything in. I knew that I had a commitment here domestically, but I also knew
that there were challenges out there internationally speaking, and I wanted to
carve out a way to get all of the interests together and attended to. But I can’t sit
here and say that I’ve ever had a philosophy qua philosophy. If anything, I did a
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lot of reading of Howard Thurman’s works. And I should mention that while I
was in college one of the highlights for me was to go over to Boston University
and listen to Howard Thurman whenever I was able to get there to hear him
preach. So I became a person who read his works avidly and also the works of
Rheinhold Niebuhr. So only in that sense did I have any philosophical base, and I
can’t even call it a philosophy. It was kind of an orientation.
Ms. Curry: Other than reading spiritual and theological books, and your law-related books,
what else did you read while in law school?
Judge Reid: Outside ofthe classroom, not much would be my guess, but I can tell you that my
greatest interest was in politics, national and international politics. So to the
ext~nt that I had time, the reading would be in that area.
Ms. Curry: How would you compare your experience at Yale and the experience at Tufts;
how would you compare the two experiences?
Judge Reid: The experiences in my sense were similar in that education was stressed, and the
need for continuing education was stressed. Yale clearly was a notch above Tufts
from the intellectual perspective because you were challenged more thoroughly.
Yale had a map, and that is, once you entered, the map was to make you feel that
there was nothing there in your background that could have prepared you for this
experience and that you were a lesser human being, if you will. And by the time
you got ready to graduate from Yale, you had a sense that you had been groomed
for something. What it was you didn’t know, but you knew that you had been
groomed and that the foundation was a very solid foundation.
Are there other thoughts or comments about your experience at Yale that you
would like to share before we conclude this segment of the interview?
I don’t think so, except to understand that Yale for me was not just Yale, but it
was also New Haven, and having an opportunity to be a part of the New Haven
community was also very important as I went through Yale.
And why was that?
It gave me a sense of being grounded; that I was not just at somebody’s
intellectual ivory tower, divorced from the people of my community, but I was
there in the community of my people.
Did you have any interaction with Lawrence Jones? You mentioned him earlier,
having met him. Did you have any interactions with him during your time at
Judge Reid: We had some. And in addition to Lawrence Jones, Benjamin Peyton was also
studying at the divinity school. Ben is now the president of Tuskegee, and we had
some interactions with him and his wife Thelma. So there was a little community
of scholars. We also had contact with Hildred Roach who was in the music
– 91 –
school at the time. In fact, she’s a member of my church now. So we had contact
with people in different schools in New Haven, so there was the broader Yale
community. There was the law school community and there was the broader
African American Yale community, and then there was the New Haven
Do you feel that your experience at the church and the broader New Haven
community was a necessary buffer to any ostracism or anything else you would
have experienced at Yale?
Judge Reid: No, I wouldn’t say it was a buffer to the ostracism, but it helped keep me
grounded, and not to come away from Yale with the sense that I was a part of an
elite community; it was a community unto itself. And so for that reason, I’m
grateful for the wider Yale community and the New Haven community.
Ms. Curry: Was there that danger, being in so few number of African Americans, was there a
danger of walking out thinking I’ve mastered Tufts, I now have an Ivy League
law school, I’m clearly better than others in my community?
Judge Reid: Yes, you need to be a part of the black community and to no longer be a part of
that community, that was a very real danger. And I sensed it the moment I
walked into the Tufts community. And you had to be aware of it, otherwise you
can get sucked right into the thought that you are unique.
Ms. Curry: Did other blacks make an effort to maintain ties with the African American
community, or you don’t know?
Judge Reid: I think to some extent Eleanor did. Some of the others kept within the community
and didn’t venture outside.
Ms. Curry: We’re going to conclude for today, and it’s very possible that I will have other
questions about the law school experience, but I’m going to say that this
concludes the law school experience. What we will pick up with the next time is
your graduate school because, of course, being so indoctrinated by your mother,
you would have just stayed in school, so you went directly from Yale to graduate
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school. And I also want to talk with you the next time about your reaction to the
events of the 1960s, the social and political unrest during that time.
Judge Reid: Right. And you should remind yourself to ask me why I ended up going directly
to graduate school.
Ms. Curry: That certainly will be the first question. Thank you very much.
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