Commission on Human Rights
42nd Great Black Kentuckian is retired judge and civil rights attorney
A retired circuit judge and one of the civil rights attorneys who helped integrate the University of Kentucky has been chosen as the 42nd member of the Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians, the educational poster and bookmark series produced by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (KCHR) and used by schools and libraries all over the state.
The poster of Judge Benjamin Shobe will be unveiled at a public ceremony at 2:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 3, at the University Of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School Of Law, 2301 South Third St., in Louisville, Ky.
Judge Shobe will help the KCHR unveil his poster and will be guest speaker. Everyone is invited to this free event.
“Judge Shobe is a person who establishes an incredibly high mark for the next generation,” said Linda Strite Murnane, KCHR executive director. “His determination and perseverance are examples of what go into the character of someone who becomes great,” she said.
The son of educators, he was born in Bowling Green, Ky., on Oct. 2, 1920. He received a bachelor’s degree from Kentucky State College in 1941. He received a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1946.
He had wanted to attend the University of Kentucky or University of Louisville Law schools, but African Americans were not allowed to attend graduate or professional schools in Kentucky at that time.
Instead, the state of Kentucky paid Shobe’s tuition to the University of Michigan under the Anderson-Mayer Bill. This law paid tuition for black students at out-of-state graduate schools since they were not permitted to attend with their white counterparts inside the state.
In 1946, Shobe began his career in Kentucky and became an accomplished trial attorney. In 1949, he, along with Thurgood Marshall (who later became the U.S. Supreme Court Justice), James Nabritt, and James Crumlin, represented Lyman T. Johnson in a well-known case involving the University of Kentucky. The men triumphed, and the university integrated, admitting black students into its graduate and professional schools.
On Jan. 6, 1953, Shobe became the first African American since Reconstruction to serve on the circuit court in Kentucky. In 1976, Shobe was appointed to the 15th Division of the Jefferson Circuit Court where he served until his retirement in 1992. For two of those years, Shobe was the first ever African American chief judge of the Jefferson Circuit Court with its 16 divisions.
In 2006, The Louisville Bar Association and the Louis D. Brandeis American Inn of Court at Louisville association developed the Judge Shobe Civility and Professionalism Award to recognize Louisville Bar Association members “whose lives and careers embody professionalism, civility, honesty and courtesy” – all trademarks portrayed by Shobe throughout his career, association officials said.
When asked for his thoughts about his life and career, Judge Shobe said: “I was always willing to try. I was never going to back down. I was willing to take the challenge, win, lose, or draw.”
Currently Judge Shobe is an Alternative Dispute Resolution Specialist with the Retired Judges and Associates.
The state human rights commission introduced the Gallery poster and bookmark series in 1970, to recognize the achievements of African Americans neglected in traditional histories of the state and to introduce Kentucky black history into classrooms. The series helps the commission in its task to raise awareness of human and civil rights in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Free posters and bookmarks are available to everyone.
The KCHR is the state government agency that enforces The Kentucky Civil Rights Act and the policies of federal civil rights laws.