Passing of Judge George N. Leighton – 1912-2018

Former Neal & Leroy partner, Judge George N. Leighton, a longtime state and federal judge who was the first African-American to set on the Illinois Appellate Court and the namesake of the Cook County criminal courthouse, died Wednesday, June 6, 2018 at the age of 105.

Remembering Judge Leighton, managing partner Langdon Neal said, “He will go down as one of this nation’s greatest civil rights lawyers. Not just in [the] advancement of racial equality, but [for his work] fighting for everyone to ensure the Constitution protect[s] all individuals.”

Judge Leighton grew up near New Bedford, Massachusetts. The son of Cape Verdean immigrants, he left school in the seventh grade after his mother found him a job on an oil tanker bound for the West Indies.

Though helping support his family meant he was unable to finish grade school or attend high school, Judge Leighton never lost his determination to become educated. He read voraciously and won an essay contest for a scholarship to Howard University in Washington, D.C. The college initially didn’t want to accept him—he hadn’t finished middle school, much less graduated from high school—he persuaded the university’s president to admit him as an “unclassified student.” In 1940, Judge Leighton graduated magna cum laude and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.  He went on to enroll, on scholarship, at Harvard Law School.