Oral History of Honorable Richard Roberts
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Michelle Jones Coles, and the interviewee is Honorable Richard Roberts. The interview took place on Friday, March 9, 2018. This is the third interview.
MS. COLES: Thank you for joining me, Judge Roberts.
JUDGE ROBERTS: Happy to be here.
MS. COLES: We want to pick back up where we left off in your college days. It looks like you brought some pictures with you today from your graduation. Is there anything about your graduation that you’d like to share?
JUDGE ROBERTS: Yes. We graduated in 1974. The men in my class were the first men to enroll at Vassar as freshmen. The school had been previously all female. They brought transfer students in in 1969, spring semester. They brought exchange students in who were men in the fall semester, but the first class of men to come there as freshmen and spend the full four years came in in 1970. So that class graduated in 1974.
You asked about the graduation, and some of the pictures that I brought to show you. The unusual thing you might see from the pictures is that graduating black seniors decided that instead of spending our rental fees to rent caps and gowns and blend in with everybody else in the graduating class in their caps and gowns, we would take that rental money and donate it to the organization called Africare. Africare was a relatively new organization, but at that time in the 1970s, West African nations were suffering through the Sahelian drought in the Sahelian desert, and it was decimating many of the villages and many of the folks there. We thought
that it would have appealed to a higher purpose to spend our rental fees on a cause such as the Sahelian drought and donate the money to Africare to show that we were thinking independently, and we were doing what Vassar said it was training us to do, and that is to think independently and engage in critical analysis, rather than buying or renting caps and gowns and appearing to blend in in some sense of uniformity or conformity.
So many of the participating African American students in the senior class that year came instead in African garb, dashikis and geles. So you will see in pictures of the graduation black students smattered about in the crowd wearing not caps and gowns but African garb. I had my dashiki on that was made by a friend of mine back in high school, and they were passing out also the red, black, and green armbands that you will see us wearing as well. They were the colors of the black liberation movement and some of the African liberation struggles.
So that was a very interesting graduation. We had also typed up a one-paragraph manifesto, as I call it, that was passed out by some of the undergraduates who were helping out to explain why black students not dressed in caps and gowns. It explained that we were donating that cap and gown rental money to Africare to help cure the Sahelian drought and that we were exercising what Vassar taught us to do, which was to think independently and analyze critically. It also recounted that black students at that time on formerly white campuses had other struggles to go through during that four-year period, and we were coming out of it moving
forward and not being, I guess, suppressed by the harshness of the experiences we had to go through on a campus like that.
So it was a very memorable time, and the kind of thing that you look back on, what, forty-some years later, and you have a bit of a smile on your face because who knows whether your behavior today would be the same if it was back then. I think the thought process, the thinking, the exercise of independence and critical analysis is something that carried forward with many of us through today.
MS. COLES: Did you feel like the students supported you guys that day?
JUDGE ROBERTS: There were many students who seemed to not be offended by it. There was one student in particular who was our senior class president who had no advance copy of this one-paragraph description, and he ended up getting one. As is Vassar’s wont, they have the president of the senior class give a speech from the podium at the front of the assembled graduation seats. Much to our surprise, in the middle of his graduation speech, he incorporated reading aloud in its entirety, this one-paragraph manifesto in his graduation speech, which I thought was a sign of endearment, a sign of support. I’m not sure who else may have done it, but I certainly stood up in the middle of his speech and applauded him during the course of the graduation ceremony while he spoke, as a sign, at least for me, if not for most of us, that we appreciated his openness, and we appreciated having him as an ally in the message that we were sending.
MS. COLES: That’s great.
JUDGE ROBERTS: He was a white male from New York City, and I think, an openly gay, white male, who was speaking his mind and embraced our message, so we were quite appreciative, and I wanted him to know that we were appreciative of him.
MS. COLES: So what did you do after college? What was your next step?
JUDGE ROBERTS: One of my black studies and history professors was named Norman Hodges. He’s still alive and lives in Florida now, and we exchange emails on occasion. He knew of my interest in international relations, particularly study about liberation movements in Africa, and he urged me to consider delaying my entry to law school and instead joining the School for International Training master’s program that had its campus in Brattleboro, Vermont.
MS. COLES: What university was it?
JUDGE ROBERTS: It’s part of an organization called the Experiment in International Living. That’s what it was called then. It’s called World Learning now. So it’s an educational institution, not a university or a college. But it does offer programs that will grant bachelor’s degrees, it will grant master’s degrees. It also grants certificates to people who don’t want full-time studies leading toward a degree. In that program I would be able to study on campus in a master’s program, and do the first half of the program, the first six months of a one-year program, on campus, doing academics, taking courses in international relations, in economics, in foreign policy, and various other international-related courses. The lure of that program
was that the second half of the program would involve us going onto an internship. We had to find it ourselves, set it up, and go off and do internships generally in foreign countries.
I was most interested in experiencing and studying and learning about the experiment that Tanzania had begun with its President, Julius Nyerere, who had helped secure independence for that nation and decided to launch into an economic and social experiment in African socialism. I wanted to learn a lot about that, and I wanted to go live and study and perhaps work in an internship in Tanzania. Unfortunately, I was unable to find one or get into one, but as luck had it, one of the black women who graduated from Vassar in 1972 learned about what I was trying to do. She was a Somali, daughter of a diplomat from Somalia who was the ambassador from Somalia to the United Nations. She went to Vassar, and I got to know her. When she learned that I was looking to try to do an internship in East Africa, she told me that her husband, Abdillahi Haji, was running a business in Nairobi, Kenya. Kenya is right next door to Tanzania. That was a company that had been engaged by many international development companies, a lot of Swiss companies, for example, who were doing development in East Africa but had no real exposure to East African culture, business, language, and so on. His company was called Elimu Tours. Elimu is a Swahili term for education. He set up Elimu Tours so that many of these contractors who were European or American or not from East Africa could come to East Africa
before working on their contracts and they would get some exposure to not only language but culture and, of course, they always wanted to go on safari and see some of the wildlife there. So what he did was package programs for these usually European or white western contractors to come to Nairobi. He would set them up with professors from the University of Nairobi who would give lectures about the politics of the area, some of the culture of the area. He would take them on field trips to different locations, and take them out on the obligatory safaris as well, but he also got them to have interactions with indigenous Africans, indigenous Kenyans from different ethnic groups, the Luos, the Kikuyus, and so on. That’s what the business did.
My friend, who was the daughter of this Somali ambassador and who married Abdillahi Haji, told me that Abdillahi could probably use my help, and since she was studying back in the States, they had extra room in their house in Nairobi, and I could just go live over there. So I wrote and communicated with him, and he said sure, come on over, we could use your help. So that was my blessing. I lived in his home.
MS. COLES: What was his home like?
JUDGE ROBERTS: It was a single-family home, I think about a three-bedroom home. It was just on the outskirts of the city center itself.
MS. COLES: Outside of Nairobi?
JUDGE ROBERTS: Outside of Nairobi. It’s still, I think, part of the incorporated municipality of Nairobi, but you had to drive maybe twenty minutes to get downtown.
It was a single-family home in a development of single-family homes. Interestingly there, among that class of folks who had education and businesses, homes were constructed with a separate room as a wing of the house that had its own kitchen and lavatory for a houseman or a houseboy, who was a house helper who would come and do cooking or cleaning or things of that nature.
MS. COLES: It was typically a man, not a woman?
JUDGE ROBERTS: You know, I don’t know. I didn’t survey all the house people in that neighborhood, but Abdillahi had a houseman named Masai who was a Kenyan. I think he was Kikuyu, and he spoke some English, so he and I could speak understandably. But that was a room that was beside the carport area, so he could have his own privacy, and then when it came time for him to come to perform his chores, he’d come into the house.
The house otherwise was single-family, with indoor plumbing, bathroom, electricity, and so on. Abdillahi’s relative, Jama Gulaid, who was my age and about my height as well, also helped out in their business, so he and I became good friends. He later became a Ph.D. or physician, working with one of the United Nations medical agencies. We kept up until maybe a decade ago. I’ll have to go find him now, but he was doing international humanitarian work.
MS. COLES: In what country?
JUDGE ROBERTS: I believe he was in Zimbabwe for a while, South Africa for a while. He came back to the States to work, I think with one of the U.S. humanitarian
agencies before going back over to Southern Africa to do work. So he and I were pretty good friends. I hope to catch up with him again. I went online to try to find him but couldn’t quite find a current location for him. But my time in Nairobi, Kenya living in Haji’s home, helping him every day, going to work at his office downtown in Nairobi, helping him with communications, with contractors, helping him set up stays with some of the lodges and hotels out in the areas where the people wanted to go and have safaris, all kinds of other administrative things that I helped him out with was just a wonderful, eye-opening experience for me. I got not just a view about Kenya and Kenyans, but he was Somali, and Somalia borders Kenya. There was a large Somali community at that time, in Nairobi, and he knew many people in that community. He had a cousin, for example, who ran a hotel. The Arr Hotel. Haji’s name was really Abdillahi Mohammed Arr Haji. Once you make your hajj, you can add hajj or haji at the end of your family name. So his name was really Abdillahi Mohammed Arr, but when he made his hajj to Mecca, he added Haji on the end, and people just shortened it by calling him Abdillahi Mohammed Haji. So we ended up just calling him Haji.
I got exposure to not just ethnic Kenyan culture, but I got exposure to ethnic Somali culture, and as should be no surprise, many different groups of people throughout the continent have their own special and unique cultural experiences and expressions and ways of speaking and different favorite foods and so on. That was quite eye-opening as well. I
learned, for example, in that community, Somalis enjoyed a practice called gerish. They’d sit around in a circle, and they’d have a common circular plate of food that they would eat with their fingers after cleansing their hands, and they’d often sing some Somali songs. They’d have other guests come by. They also had this odd, for me it was odd, leaf that they would enjoy chewing, and they said it was a very relaxing, sort of a leafy substance. So I tried it. It didn’t taste very good to me, and it didn’t relax me very much, but, you know, when in Rome. So when in Nairobi, outside Somalia.
But there were lots of other wonderful things. There was a song that they sang popular in that area and at the gerish, that I for whatever reason remember today, with Somali words (he begins to sing the Somali song). It had this as the rhythm accompanying it (he plays a beat). Don’t ask me why I remember that, but it was a very wonderful melody, and it made me feel much more infused in the culture that I was living in, and it made me feel less like some outsider, some gringo American.
The interesting thing, I guess, at that point was I still had that huge Afro over there, which is really an African-American invention, not a traditional African invention, so I did get quite a few stares.
MS. COLES: Was the language barrier ever a challenge for you, or did most people speak English?
JUDGE ROBERTS: Lots of English-speaking over there. The English had colonized Kenya and Tanzania. Somalis being right next door to Kenya and Tanzania,
those who lived in Nairobi were usually bilingual, if not trilingual. They could speak Swahili, which was much more indigenous to some of the groups in Kenya and Tanzania, but they also spoke Somali and English, so there was really very little language barrier for me during my time in East Africa.
MS. COLES: What was the experience like living in a country that had recently gone through a liberation movement?
JUDGE ROBERTS: Well, it was interesting and there were many, many stories you could hear. There was a great deal of pride, particularly among Kenyans that they had achieved their own liberation and freedom from colonial powers. One of the freedom fighters was Jomo Kenyatta. Jomo Kenyatta, I believe, was linked with the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. That was an early precursor to the ultimate victory that the Kenyans won over colonial rule in Kenya. Jomo Kenyatta was later democratically elected to be president of Kenya. He was in office for quite a while. There were reports toward the later end of his service as president that some of the corruption that you see in other countries infused his administration. There were reports about how he had used the security forces and police to suppress dissent. As a newcomer, I couldn’t tell if that was all accurate, or whether it was just reportage, but I could see, for example, whenever there was a presidential motorcade and President Kenyatta was being transported from one location to another, the armed forces would proceed the motorcade, always with armed guns at the ready, to spread out room on the streets and clear the streets of any
pedestrians. You could look at the pedestrians by that point in 1975 and realize that there was a sense of anxiety if they had not done the right thing and gotten off the street, and if they had not stood perfectly still as the president’s motorcade stood by. The pedestrians at that point would not wave, they would not point. That, I was told, would be somewhat dangerous because they might be suspected of doing something to harm the president.
So I think there was, although a great pride in Kenyatta having been in the forefront of the liberation struggle, but there was also great anxiety about whether he had abused his powers in office by that point. There was a tradition in Kenyan movie theaters that before you saw any movie, the screen would light up with the Kenyan flag flowing in the wind, and the music of the Kenyan national anthem would come on. Everybody on instinct, not necessarily on command nobody in the movie theater would require them to stand up but I think Kenyans, either by matter of pride or by matter of fear, knowing that if anybody saw them not stand up something might happen to them, they all immediately stood up at the beginning of the movie when the national anthem was playing, and once it was over only then could they sit down to watch the movie.
One thinks about freedom of expression, freedom of dissent, freedom of protest, the freedom that we are supposed to be able to exercise and enjoy today for example NFL players who decide to protest police brutality against African American communities by taking a knee or
holding their head down when the national anthem plays in the football games run by the NFL and compare that to how it did not seem to be a viable option among Kenyans in Nairobi when I went to the movie theaters at that time. And when I was accompanied by my host, I always got the elbow, you gotta stand up, you gotta stand up. So I made sure I was not going to become a statistic for not doing what was the custom there.
But I look back on that, and compare how the Colin Kaepernicks of our nation are able to enjoy the freedom that our founding fathers gave them, yet they face criticism for doing what they are supposed to have the right to do, and are doing in a not disrespectful manner, and it’s a bit odd. This is not Kenya of 1975, but they face searing criticism nevertheless for doing what our founding documents supposedly give them the right to do. It’s interesting.
MS. COLES: It’s interesting that you are able to have that comparison based on your experience in a more authoritarian, it seems like a more authoritarian regime.
JUDGE ROBERTS: And that was a time also when you had heads of nations like Idi Amin in Uganda. Amin had similarly gone through a process of resisting British rule but had gotten to a point in his rule where he was roundly criticized for abuse of power. You had others who became more authoritarian in some of the other nations, and I suspect that as history is written, Kenyatta, toward the later end of his rule, would likely be grouped with
some of those other more authoritarian leaders in newly liberated nations of Africa where they may have overstayed their stay in power.
MS. COLES: Was there still a community of Europeans left behind after liberation?
JUDGE ROBERTS: In Kenya, yes. There were still pockets of British businesspeople who ran either banks or insurance companies or other kinds of lucrative businesses, import-export. There were South Africans who had left South Africa during apartheid and brought with them useful skills that were welcome by the Kenyans. There were others, Swiss people who were some of the folks who were doing some of the infrastructure improvement and some of the social welfare programs that got contracts from the Kenyan government. So yes, there were some Europeans. You also saw stark contrasts between the standards of living that they became accustomed to by comparison to the newly free Kenyans, and the disparities that you saw then unfortunately may still exist to some extent. A lot of the colonial housing that Europeans lived in probably remained at that point. But yes, there were still Europeans, post-independence Europeans who remained. I suspect some left or fled, but others were able to meld into the fabric of business and society in Kenya.
MS. COLES: How long did you stay there?
JUDGE ROBERTS: I was there for three months. My goal had been originally to be in Tanzania to study African socialism. I didn’t quite get to stay in Tanzania for the three-month period, but I was able to visit at least on one of my, I suppose, weekends off, and I was able to take a bus on my own down to
Arusha, Tanzania, across the border, down into Arusha, Tanzania. Arusha for many years I think was the seat of the Organization of African States. It was sort of a UN for African Nations, and many international conferences were held in Arusha. Although I was not able to get to Dar es Salaam, the capital on the shore, getting to Arusha was for me almost manifest destiny, so I was able to say I got to Tanzania. I even picked up some of the earth, some of the dirt, and brought it home with me.
MS. COLES: What was it that attracted to Tanzania?
JUDGE ROBERTS: Well, it was Julius Nyerere’s efforts to engage in an experiment in African socialism. Growing up, you heard lots of negative comments about communists and socialists, and that was just something that as an American you absorbed without critically thinking about what does this mean. Is there only a single socialism? Julius Nyerere said there’s an African socialism. Well, some of the socialist dogma coming out of Marx and Lenin didn’t talk about African socialism, so I wanted to delve more deeply into what does all this mean and to understand much of what was motivating it in Tanzania and other places. An effort to have communal and not competitive lifestyles, an effort to have the common good be what was at the fore of governmental and social efforts, not individual competitive efforts where individuals try to make the best for themselves and everybody else was on their own. It was an early period when you were trying to understand what does all of this mean. I didn’t know. We didn’t have that much by way of training in it in some of the typical
political science classes offered by a college like Vassar that had had historically a Eurocentric curriculum that paid much less attention to these kinds of questions. Happily, the black women who took over the administration building at Vassar back in 1969 successfully were able to get a black studies curriculum instituted, and slowly but surely, it built upon curricular offerings that later on began to focus on some of those very kinds of questions. A lot of them got focused on after I left, but happily it was moving on a good trajectory in the right direction.
So I think what attracted me to Tanzania principally was this effort on the part of a newly freed society to form itself, create itself and live using a very different set of guidelines, a different goal, different way of living. And it was something that I wanted to take a look-see at.
MS. COLES: So what did you do after this experience?
JUDGE ROBERTS: After the experience for three months or after the experience of taking the bus to Tanzania? I do want to tell you about that.
Taking the bus by myself from Nairobi to Arusha, Tanzania, meant that I wasn’t just driving in a little van with my host and his cousin to and from work. I was blending in with the locals. The buses there, by today’s standards, were always dangerously overloaded. The passenger seating inside was always overflowing.
MS. COLES: What was the terrain? Was it flat?
JUDGE ROBERTS: Some of it was paved terrain, from Nairobi to places close to the border, but when you got off of that, you got on dirt roads. I remember being on a
dirt road, there were no stop lights, no stop signs, no street signs, no road maps. Nothing. It was just a dirt road. I had no idea how the bus driver knew where he was and knew where he was supposed to be going. It was clear eventually the bus driver had done this so many times there was no need for these kinds of maps.
MS. COLES: How long of a trip?
JUDGE ROBERTS: I believe that trip took probably twelve hours. I might be off, but I think it was about a twelve-hour trip all told. And we went through, as they often said, the bush. And when I’m talking about going to the bush, no bus stops, none of that.
MS. COLES: Did everyone have a seat?
JUDGE ROBERTS: Yes. Three people to a seat, and the luggage was often on top of the bus tied down because there was no room to bring it onto the bus, so if you hit a curb, you were always praying for dear life that the bus wouldn’t topple over. These bus drivers, they knew what they were doing apparently, and the bus never toppled over. But when we were out in the bush, we had been out for about an hour on this dirt road, the bus just stopped. Now, here I am accustomed to Greyhound bus stations and people knowing where to go on paved roads. It just stopped. I didn’t see any stop signs. I didn’t see any signs saying this was a bus stop. It just stopped. I didn’t know whether to be concerned, worried. I didn’t know if we were being bus-jacked. I didn’t know what was going on.
MS. COLES: Did the buses have radio technology?
JUDGE ROBERTS: Not that I saw. I think this was a matter of a bus driver knowing exactly where he was, even though I didn’t, and he just stopped. I looked around and saw nothing but bushes. Well, after a few moments, out of the clear blue, there were people coming out of places I couldn’t even see and getting on the bus. It was obviously a well-traveled bus stop, and people knew well this bus is coming at a certain hour. The bus driver knew that this was the place where people were going to be coming, and they just came out of the bushes and got on the bus. I was really quite amazed.
MS. COLES: No platform?
JUDGE ROBERTS: No platform, no signs, no nothing. I thought maybe the bus ran out of gas, maybe somebody was hijacking us. I had no clue. But the people just wandered out of the bush in their flowing robes and got on the bus like it was an everyday occurrence. And I guess it was. It hadn’t been for me, but folks but just got on the bus.
Another interesting part of this trip was we were going through the portion of Kenya, or maybe we had crossed over into Tanzania, where the population was principally Maasai, the Maasai warriors. You can identify them because the Maasai people are often very, very tall, and very, very lean, very sinewy. They would often, when they were not getting on buses, have spears that they would use either in clearing bushes or killing cattle or what have you. These passengers were Maasai, but they did not have spears. They wore, these are men, wore long, flowing gowns draped over their heads that flowed down to their knees or below. Wonderful,
sensible clothing. It was very loose-fitting. Two things I had not had an appreciation for. One, the Maasai warriors who got on the bus wore these flowing gowns, and that was it. No underwear, no underpants, no undershirts. So if the wind ever blew up their gowns, they were in the altogether. It was not quite as much a big deal. I just as an American had to realize when in Rome.
The second thing I didn’t appreciate was what the Maasai sometimes did was use a certain kind of red substance as a dye to color their robes. One thing that I’m told that they would often do, both to color their robes and to apply as some kind of a hair dressing, was that they would mix a cow’s blood with cow dung, and that would be sort of hair pomade that would for whatever reason hold their hair in place and the cow blood also I think was mixed with some things to use as a dye for their clothing. Well, what to me was of significance of this mixture when the Maasai got on the bus? Well I at a certain point had a seat right at the window, which meant that there were two empty seats beside me. When we stopped in the bush and these Maasai came out of nowhere from what I could tell, two of them got on the bus, and the two seats right beside mine, they occupied. You know how in the United States sometimes we feel it’s a little bit rude to stare at somebody when you’re looking at them and you avert your stare a little bit and look out the corner of your eyes if you really want to stare at them? Well these two gentlemen did not come from that culture. When they got on the bus and they sat beside this skinny guy
with this huge Afro that is not indigenous African but it was just falling over the place, they went right up in my face and looked at me, looked at my hair, and looked at what I was wearing, and they had a good old time just amused at this weird-looking guy sitting on their bus, and they were obviously speaking to each other about what an odd-looking fellow this guy is.
I didn’t know whether to be afraid. I realized ultimately that this was just them being curious and that was fine and okay in their culture, so I relaxed after a while. What wasn’t as easy to relax about was this mixture of blood and cow dung that was used in some ways on their skin or in their hair attracted flies like you would not believe. They had more flies, and it was no big deal to them.
MS. COLES: Did it smell?
JUDGE ROBERTS: I really could not smell what was attracting the flies, but the flies knew exactly what was going on. The Maasai gentlemen who were sitting beside me had flies crawling up their face, crawling all over their hair, up in their nose, on their cheeks, around their neck, and it was no big deal to them. And again, not to be critical. That’s life as they knew it and enjoyed it. But I must tell you that was not something to which I was accustomed. Someone asked me, “I bet you made up a new saying: Maasais and flies I do despise.” I did not despise the Maasais, but the flies I could have done without.
That was a fun experience. I actually got to meet two African American women in Arusha who were there studying. One went on to be, I believe, a professor in California, Kaidi Bowden Jones. Her name at the time was Kaidi Bowden. And another was named Roslyn Ellis. She changed her given name to Rehema. If you ever watch channel 4 NBC network news, you will see a very lovely stately black woman who does special interest reports on the 7:00 p.m. evening news, and her signoff is Rehema Ellis reporting for NBC news, and she is the one I met in Tanzania. She is now a broadcast journalist on national NBC news.
After I left there, they met a fellow who came through Tanzania right after I left. He was a tall, light fellow with a big Afro as well, and so when these two met him, of course they thought well African American, tall, light, big hair, they asked him do you know this guy Ricky Roberts, and he had not known me or met me, but it turns out that he came to Columbia Law School that following fall, met me, and said are you the guy that went to East Africa to Arusha and got to meet Rehema Ellis, and I said how do you know that. He said they asked me. Well this guy is not an unknown either. This guy is Teddy Shaw, Ted Shaw who is now the Julius Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who was previously the Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who was previously professor at Columbia Law School, before that professor of law at University of Michigan, before that, he opened up the NAACP Legal
Defense Fund’s California office, and so on. So Teddy and I have become good friends, and we’ve had apparently some paths that crossed before we even knew it.
MS. COLES: That’s interesting. So speaking of Columbia Law School, was that the next chapter after Kenya, or was there something else?
JUDGE ROBERTS: There was something in between. Right after Kenya, I applied for and got admitted to CLEO, Council on Legal Education Opportunity Summer Legal Institute. CLEO is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. It was formed in order to try to help students of color, African Americans, Latinos, and working-class students who were pre-law students about to enter law school. We studied in a summer institute for six weeks where they offered academic instruction by lawyers and law professors, sometimes judges. We would take substantive courses to prepare us for what law study would be like in law school. I went to that program at Boston College Law School where people came from all over the country. We had about 45 pre-law students who ended up going to law schools all over the country, and that six-week program was invaluable. The director of the program was Walter Leonard. Walter Leonard was special assistant to President Derek Bok of Harvard University. Walter Leonard is the man who drafted the Harvard Plan. The Harvard Plan is the affirmative action plan that the Supreme Court in Bakke and other cases recognized as a good and useful way to engage in affirmative action in higher education. Walter Leonard was the director of that program. He taught, he
administered the program. This was a six-week period I guess when he wasn’t required to do his administrative or teaching work at Harvard Law School. I will never forget that he inculcated in us the seriousness of purpose that we had to pursue when we got to law school. His favorite mantra that has stuck with me throughout my legal career was “you must have a fetish for preparation.” So to be a successful lawyer, I remembered that, and preparation was something I’ve always valued as an important thing in my own career.
We had a number of other law professors and lawyers whom we learned from during that program. We also had a second-year law student who was a teaching assistant who had gone to Boston College Law School, and she brooked no nonsense. If we had to write something and turn something in, if anybody was trying to slip and slide, oh no, no, no. Sue Holmes was the teaching assistant, second-year black woman law student at Boston College Law School who had that as her summer job. That index finger would go up in your face, wag back and forth, left to right, oh no, no, no. She’d turn that paper right back to us and say get serious, do this right. Not surprisingly, Sue Holmes is Sue Holmes Winfield, who is now a judge on the District of Columbia Superior Court. No surprise at all to me, and I suspect litigants who came before her and tried to pull something over her eyes would get that same finger, going back left to right. So it wasn’t a surprise that she went on to become a judge.
We had another set of very distinguished, particularly African American, lawyers and judges that taught us in that program. Wayne Budd was the Associate Attorney General of the United States later on in I think it was the Bush administration. Marilyn Ainsworth was a private practitioner very well regarded in legal circles. We had really a wonderful cast of instructors who were role models for us but also instilled in us the fact that we had to work hard and be serious if we were going to succeed in law school.
So after coming back from Kenya, I went into the CLEO program six-week summer institute, which not only instilled in us that academic seriousness that we would be required to use in law school, but it also gave us a stipend every year in law school to help us pay for books and other expenses. So the CLEO program is something I’ve always been loyal to. They’re celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and I was honored last year they inducted me, among other people, into their CLEO Hall of Fame. So I’m quite devoted to CLEO and its continuation.
MS. COLES: That’s great. I think this might be a good place to stop because law school is going to open up a whole other can of worms, so let’s sign off here.