Elected officials, judges, and the public joined the Honorable George N. Leighton and his family on Friday, June 29th for the renaming and dedication ceremony at the Cook County Criminal Court Building.
The courthouse, located at 26th and California, will now be known as “The Honorable George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building”. The renaming commemorates Judge Leighton’s decades of service to the justice system and the example he set for those in the legal profession everywhere. An installation in Judge Leighton’s honor has been placed near the entrance of the courthouse, and includes memorabilia from his time as a judge and civil rights advocate.
“I don’t have any proud moments, there’s no room for pride,” Judge Leighton said about the dedication, and his life’s work. “I’m not proud, I’m satisfied. It’s a manifestation of appreciation. It’s good to know that someone appreciates the things I did.”
The 99-year-old Leighton is celebrated for a lifetime of achievement as a scholar, judge, humanitarian and freedom fighter. He rose from humble beginnings in New Bedford, MA, where he worked daily in the cranberry fields. Despite only completing seventh grade, perseverance and hard work led him to earn degrees at Howard University and Harvard Law School. Judge Leighton began his legal career as a civil rights attorney, defending clients at the courthouse that now bears his name. In 1964 he was elected to Circuit Court judge and later became the first African American to serve on the Illinois Appellate Court, which he did from 1969 – 1975. From there, he was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, where he served for more than 20 years.
“Judge Leighton is a living testament to what can be achieved with education and hard work, and his legacy is an indication of the social progress we have made in the past century,” President Preckwinkle said. “He is a pioneer for African American lawyers, and will remain an inspiration for us all. This permanent dedication in his honor will serve as a reminder of life’s possibilities and the importance of the pursuit of justice.”
Hundreds turned out to commemorate the historic event. Those in attendance included Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ann Claire Williams; Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride; Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke; Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans; Circuit Court Judge William H. Hooks; Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown; State’s Attorney Anita Alverez; Sheriff Thomas J. Dart; and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“When it comes to George Leighton, the word ‘honorable’ is not only a title he earned from serving as a judge. Honorable is the word that defines his life,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Our American story is one defined by the expansion of equality and opportunity, and that is a story we must continue. Judge Leighton has not only lived that story, he has moved us forward through his service to our community, to our laws, and to our country. It is only right that we stand here today to recognize all he has given Chicago and the country.”
The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to rename the courthouse in March 2012, after Alderman Ed Burke suggested the measure to President Preckwinkle. The building was built in 1929, and remains one of the busiest criminal courthouses in the United States.