By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
Judge Louis A. Bedford Jr., known as a defender of justice, civil rights advocate, trailblazer, humanitarian and servant, was the first African American judge in Dallas County.
To celebrate his legacy and help create and build the next future leaders of America, the Dallas Independent School District Board of Trustees voted to rename the William Hawley Atwell Law Academy, located at 1303 Reynoldston Lane, as the Judge Louis A. Bedford Jr. Law Academy. The school serves middle school students grades six through eight. It was one of several schools the Dallas Independent School District voted to rename during its March 24 board meeting, including.
Bedford was born in Dallas on Jan. 23, 1926. He was passionate about education and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1942 at 16 years old. He then went to Prairie View College and graduated in 1946 with a bachelor’s degree.
His dream was to study law and pursue a law degree. However, the state of Texas refused Blacks admission to graduate schools at the time. So, Bedford went New York to study law. He graduated and earned his law degree from Brooklyn School of Law in 1951.
After graduating from law school, Bedford returned to Dallas to practice law and address and fight the racial discrimination practices that was known in the Dallas County justice system at the time.
He opened his first law practice in his own home. He was a well-respected attorney in the community and often represented low-income homeowners and civil rights protestors in Texas.
During that time, it was common for attorneys to join the Dallas Bar Association, an all-White attorneys’ group at that time. However, they refused to allow Black attorneys to join until 1963.
Therefore, Bedford was among a group of African American lawyers who met May 4, 1952, to address issues they faced – including unfair treatment from judges. The group organized and formed the Barrister’s Club. Attorney J.L. Turner Jr., who had practiced law for several years and many mentored younger lawyers, was also a co-founder and officer of the organization. The organization was renamed the J.L. Turner Legal Association, in 1956.
He was among a team of attorneys who filed a lawsuit for the Brown vs. Topeka Supreme Court decision to desegregate the Dallas school system. Also, he represented many civil rights protestors in Marshall during their sit-ins and protests in 1960.
Bedford became the first African American judge in Dallas County in 1966. He served until 1980. Afterward, he continued to practice law in Dallas County and practiced for over 60 years.
Known as a champion for civil rights, justice and equality in the legal system and in the community, he was also chosen by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 to serve on the Commission for Nominating Federal Circuit Court Judges for the Fifth Circuit.
Bedford, who was married to Velma Ruth Bates for 51 years, died on April 10, 2014, at the age of 88 after losing his battle with cancer. His wife predeceased him in death in 2010. He was survived by his son Louis A. Bedford III and daughters Diane and Angela.
Dallas ISD also renamed the following schools or departments:
- Bryan Adams High School to Bryan Adams High School Leadership Academy
- Robert L. Thornton Elementary School to Otto M. Fridia Elementary School
- Library at Thornton Elementary School to be Named the Emma Rodgers Library at Otto M. Fridia Elementary School
- Sarah Zumwalt Middle School to Dr. Frederick Douglass Todd Sr. Middle School
- Fine Arts Department at Pinkston High School to be Named the Regina Taylor Fine Arts Department
- ROTC Wing at Pinkston High School to be Named LTC. Retired Raymond Castillo ROTC Wing
- School of Business and Management at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center to Marvin E. Robinson School of Business and Management at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center
- Cafeteria at H.S. Thompson Elementary School to be Named the Jacqueline Mixon Cafetorium
Sources: Dallas ISD, Texas Handbook Online and J.L. Turner Legal Association