Oldest federal judge remembered: Followed the Boy Scout Oath

February 11, 2012

He served on the federal bench through his 104th birthday, slowing down only when death took him last month.

Federal Judge Wesley E. Brown, at 103, in Wichita, Kansas - photo by Larry Smith for the New York Times

Federal Judge Wesley E. Brown, then 103, at his desk in the courthouse in Wichita, Kansas, in 2010 - photo by Larry Smith for the New York Times. Note the computer pictured behind Judge Brown -- not a technophobe.

U.S. Federal District Judge Wesley Brown died last month.  At a memorial service, those who knew him paid homage to his lifelong devotion to the Boy Scout Oath.  At the risk of angering the copyright poobahs at Associated Press, I quote from the AP story from Wichita, Kansas, carried at the site of Fox 6 WBRC (somewhere in Alabama):

“He was truly a first among equals – an icon of all that is good and faithful and true, both as a person and as a judge,” said U.S. District Judge Katherine Vratil, now the chief judge for the federal district in Kansas.

Mike Lahey, Brown’s law clerk for the past 24 years, said the judge’s life was governed by two oaths: one that he took to be a district judge in 1962 and the other when he became a Boy Scout in 1920.

Lahey said the judge often would recite the oath to him from memory: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the scout law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

“To Judge Brown those words were never a simple rite of passage,” Lahey said. “To him, they were the aspiration of what a man should be and he adopted them as a guide for the rest of his life.”

He was born three years before Scouting was incorporated in the U. S. and lived past Scouting’s 100th anniversary.  Any other Scouters out there with greater longevity in Scouting?

An article in The Wichita Eagle laid out the historical perspective of Brown’s astonishing service:

Brown served during an era of changing civil rights, equality for men and women in the workplace and legal battles over Internet privacy.

During the 1970s, Brown told a Wichita hospital it couldn’t fire a woman because she was single and pregnant and ruled that North High School had to let a girl on its golf team. During the 1980s, Brown ordered millions of dollars in payments to railroad workers denied promotions because they were Americans of African descent.

More recently, Brown presided over cases including a $3 million athletic ticket scandal at the University of Kansas, where he studied physical education under James Naismith.

Calvin Coolidge was president when Brown entered the University of Kansas as an undergraduate in 1925.

Brown studied by night and worked to support himself at the Ford Motor Co. factory in Kansas City. When the Great Depression hit, he found himself having to write pink slips notifying fellow workers that they were out of jobs. One of those pink slips was his own. He finished law school working as a secretary for a local attorney’s office for $15 a week.

At his first job for a Hutchinson law firm, Brown made $25 a month, before being elected as Reno County attorney from 1935 to 1939.

Brown never let age get in his way. When he joined the Navy in World War II he was 37 — the oldest in his unit.

He was a past president of the Kansas Bar Association. He became chief judge for the Kansas federal district in 1971.

Brown assumed senior status in 1979, which is seen in the federal court system as semi-retirement at full salary. Brown, however, continued to work full time for the next three decades.



NAACP petition to Hollywood movie makers for Black History Month

February 11, 2012

Good idea, I think:



Growing up, I remember marveling at the stories about the bravery, courage, and patriotism demonstrated by the Tuskegee Airmen.

I was happy to see them gain renewed recognition through the recent film Red Tails. Their story of persevering through a pervasive culture of prejudice to become American heroes is one we should tell more often.

But as we celebrate Black History Month and honor the African-American heroes in our lives, we must remember that films celebrating the contributions of people of color remain few and far between. That’s why I’m asking you to sign onto a letter asking movie studios to bring more of these stories to the silver screen.

Sign our letter encouraging Hollywood to create more films like Red Tails, celebrating the contributions of African-Americans throughout our history:


The facts about the production of films showing African-American heritage, and the employment of African-Americans in Hollywood, are alarming.

In 2009, Screen Actors Guild President Ken Howard said, “the diverse and multicultural world we live in today is still not accurately reflected in the portrayals we see on the screen.” And last year, the Writers Guild of America released a study showing the minority share of employment in feature films had fallen to 5%, its lowest level in ten years.

We must reverse these trends. With your help, we can send a message to the Hollywood studios that the public wants to see more films on the contributions of diverse communities, written, directed, and produced by filmmakers from all walks of life.

Make no mistake — we have come a long way since the Tuskegee Airmen flew in the face of a society that thought them incapable of achieving the feats of bravery they regularly demonstrated. Now we must ensure their legacy will be passed on to future generations.

Join us in telling Hollywood we need more films celebrating African-American culture and contributions:


After you sign the letter, I hope you’ll go see Red Tails in the theaters this weekend. It’s a great way to continue celebrating Black History Month. And if you have already seen it, see it again!

Thank you,

Vic Bulluck

Executive Director
NAACP Hollywood Bureau

P.S. Join us on February 17th as we honor those who have achieved milestones in the fields of social justice and art. The 43rd Annual NAACP Image Awards will air live on NBC at 8:00 p.m. (7:00 p.m. central).

Have you seen “Red Tails” yet?  What did you think?

(Oy.  Have you heard the controversy in Dallas about taking classes to see it?)


Quote of the moment: Una Mulzac, ‘learn, teach’

February 11, 2012

From her obituary in the New York Times, Sunday February 5, 2012:

Ms. Mulzac’s profession was selling books at Liberation Bookstore, a Harlem landmark that for four decades specialized in materials promoting black identity and black power.  On one side of the front door, a sign declared,

“If you don’t know, learn.”

On the other:

“If you know, teach.”

Ms. Mulzac died at a hospital in Queens on January 21, at the age of 88.

Sign of Liberation Bookstore, Harlem, founded by Una Mulzac (1923-2012)

Una Mulzac at the door of Liberation Bookstore, in Harlem.  Harlem World image

Una Mulzac at the door of Liberation Bookstore, in Harlem. Harlem World image


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