Tribute to Hon. George Bundy Smith.

AuthorStandard, Kenneth G.
PositionNew York Court of Appeals judge - Testimonial

When I was just starting to try cases in New York in the 1960s, I had a meeting with a judge in his chambers. There, I met his new law secretary--like me, a young lawyer, with whom I would thereafter visit whenever I came to see the judge. His name? George Bundy Smith. We became friendly with each other, as we discovered a number of common threads in our lives. Both of us had come from rather modest backgrounds. He had gone on to a northeastern prep school and then to Yale College and Yale Law School. I had gone to a Brooklyn public high school and then to Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Both of us were motivated by a love of learning and a belief in the central role of law to civilization and human progress.

The work of lawyers and others in the civil rights movement had a profound effect on each of us. We were very aware of the groundbreaking, difficult and slow work that attorneys of color and others were doing. We also were aware of our own limited career opportunities despite our educational accomplishments, but were determined to persevere and to seek to increase equal opportunity for ourselves and all others, each in his own way.

Judge Smith's involvement in these efforts was different from mine. He was an early Freedom Rider on a bus to Montgomery, Alabama, there meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights notables. Judge Smith made this journey after learning of the fire bombings of homes and vicious beatings by police and others in mobs that beset other Freedom Riders who preceded him. He and fellow bus riders were arrested at a bus station lunch counter and jailed for several days on charges of breach of the peace and unlawful assembly. Fortunately, Judge Smith survived his activities to serve us all as an Associate Judge of our Court of Appeals.

A native of New Orleans, Judge Smith commented years later, "Many of us who grew up in the South during the time of segregation grew up with the idea that life as we then knew it was not consistent with American ideals or principles and we vowed to change that way of life." Looking back, he also wrote that he was pleased to have been a Freedom Rider, joining a journey and a movement of nonviolence that helped spur litigation and ensure court decisions against segregation, and which ultimately led to all the civil rights legislation at the federal and state levels that has made the lives of all Americans better and, in fact, the lives of many outside the United States...

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