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City's first Black judge remembers long road to the bench
Louisiana’s first Black judge, Isreal M. Augustine, was appointed to the bench in 1969. The next year in 1970, in the city of New Orleans, Dutch Morial was the state's first elected Black judge. But it would be more than a decade before Baton Rouge saw a Black judge.
According to recently retired Freddie Pitcher Jr., it was a long journey to donning the judge's robe.
“There's a little piece in my book where I say, ‘why not me’,” Pitcher said.
Pitcher was first inspired by his cousin, Alex L. Pitcher, one of the first black lawyers in the state, who went on to be a celebrated Civil Rights attorney. The late Pitcher escorted LSU's first Black student, Roy S. Wilson, to class and later working alongside Thurgood Marshall for the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case.
“He was in the first class at Southern University Law Center,” Pitcher said. “I wanted to be like Alex. Alex became my hero. He used to visit our house."
Owen's Grocery Market is where it all started for Pitcher. According to him, he transitioned from hanging out on a bench in front of the Valley Park neighborhood store to the bench in the courtroom.
Following his cousin to the bar after graduating from the Southern University Law Center in 1973, Pitcher took his ambitions to the local electorate in 1983.
“I felt like I could do it. Matter of fact, the judge who was elected at city court before me won the race with 7,000 votes, and I knew that I could get more than 7,000 votes,” Pitcher said about his first election.
In fact, he got more than 16,000 votes, becoming the city's first Black judge more than 280 years after Baton Rouge was founded.
“As a young Black lawyer, I had issues with some white judges on how they dealt with Black people. I wanted to make sure that that was not the kind of judge I wanted to emulate,” Pitcher said. “There was an awakening that had to happen in Baton Rouge for white and Black folks that Blacks can do this job."
For nearly six years, he was the city's only Black judge, later winning seats in both district court and the court of appeals.
With a majority Black judges at the 19th JDC for the first time ever, Pitcher said in his experience it is more important to do what's right while on the bench.
“The fact that we have more numbers now is good. The idea is that you got the seats just do good while you have the seat. It’s not so much about the idea that Black judges control it. While you got it, let's do good with it,” he explained.
In his upcoming book, he shares a message for young people in the capital city: It's possible.
“I like that I kind of like set the stage for them. You can achieve this. Don't let your zip code define where you're gonna go,” he said.
Judge Pitcher’s forthcoming book, From the Bench to the Bar to the Bench: A Memoir, will be in publication with LSU Press and is set for release later this year.
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