By J. Whyatt Mondesire
President NAACP Philadelphia Branch
It is both a privilege and an honor to join this chorus of exultation in support of the renaming the Criminal Justice Center for the late Justice Juanita Kidd Stout.
I knew Judge Stout as a young journalist when I was assigned to report on City Hall. And, during those years, I was always impressed by her stellar knowledge of the law, her poise on and off the bench and most of all, by her steadfast dedication to public service as a special calling –almost like a gift from the heavens.
To remain a bit personal for just a few more moments, I also knew my legendary predecessor as head of the NAACP, the late criminal attorney Cecil Bassett Moore.
On more than one occasion, it was Cecil Moore who spoke glowingly about Justice Stout, even when he was regaling his audiences with his ribald stories about his courtroom exploits.
It should be remembered that when Mr. Moore was forced to address his extraordinary backlog of major cases, the city’s judicial leaders at the time settle immediately on just one Common Pleas judge to handle that awesome task, Juanita Kidd Stout.
And she handled that task, like all the others, with skill, fairness and a sprinkle of wry humor, that even the bombastic Cecil Moore had to appreciate and respect.
Naming the criminal justice center for the first African woman to be elected to a judgeship in these United States is more than fitting, it is overdue.
Justice Stout’s list of “firsts”–in fact –is so stellar that it is hard to think of any reason this building would be adorned with any name but hers.
Appointed in late 1959 by then Gov. David Lawrence to a seat on the municipal court, she ran for a full term that November making her the first African American woman to be elected to a judicial post in this country.
Elected to the Common Pleas Court in 1969 and again in 1979, she served with distinction that was noted by legal scholars across the nation, especially for her vigorous fight against juvenile delinquency.
And in what had to be the crown jewel of her extraordinary career, she was named to a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by then Gov. Bob Casey in 1988, making her the only woman of color to ever serve on the state’s highest court –and certainly only one of a handful of African American women to have ever reached such a pinnacle.
Finally, it should be noted that in the 21st Century, at a time when many of our young people barely care to understand or even appreciate our common history, it is important that each generation take the time to enshrine the names and accomplishments of our peers, so that their life stories might serve as mileposts by which future generations can mark their own progress.
Furthermore, in a city which has so few monuments dedicated to the plethora of accomplishments by those of African descent it is time to right this omission.
And in a city where, to my knowledge, there is no public building or monument, except for a few schools, named in honor of an African American woman, it is time to correct this affront to our American History.