D'Army Bailey

Last updated
D'Army Bailey
Born( 1941-11-29)November 29, 1941
DiedJuly 12, 2015(2015-07-12) (aged 73)
Alma mater Clark University
Occupationlawyer, judge, activist, author, actor

D'Army Bailey (November 29, 1941 – July 12, 2015) was an African-American lawyer, circuit court judge, civil rights activist, author, and film actor. Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, he served as a city councilman in Berkeley, California, from 1971-73.


Bailey was the founder of the National Civil Rights Museum which opened in 1991 at Memphis’s Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain in 1968. His 1993 book, Mine Eyes Have Seen: Dr. Martin Luther King’s Final Journey, focused on that period. A second book, The Education of a Black Radical, published in October 2009 by LSU Press, recalls Bailey's own history in the civil rights movement. His interest in civil liberties issues also led Bailey to film, where he portrayed a judge in the 1999 film The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). [1]

He had roles in seven other movies, including portrayals ranging from a minister to a street-hustling pool player. Bailey received his law degree from Yale Law School in 1967. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts in 2010. As a lawyer, he practiced for 16 years in Memphis before being elected as a judge in the Circuit Court of Tennessee's Thirtieth Judicial District in 1990. He presided over a nationally recognized trial lasting four months in 1999 in which three major tobacco firms were acquitted of wrongdoing in contributing to the deaths of smokers. He was twice nominated to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court. [2]

In September 2009, Bailey retired from the bench and became a member of Wilkes & McHugh, PA, [3] a national civil litigation law firm, founded in 1985 by Jim Wilkes and Tim McHugh. In 2014, he was again elected to the bench and returned to office September 1, 2014. [4] Bailey lectured at law schools, including Harvard, Loyola in California, Washington and Lee, Washington University in St. Louis, and Notre Dame University. He published legal articles at the law schools at Harvard University, the University of Toledo, Washington and Lee, and Howard University. Bailey has served on the executive committee of the Tennessee Judicial Conference. [5]

Early years

Bailey was born in South Memphis and grew up near Mississippi Boulevard. He attended the segregated Booker T. Washington High School from 1955–59, as Tennessee resisted desegregating its schools, as did numerous other southern states. Bailey attended the nation's largest historically black university, Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

As president of the school’s freshman class, and for the next two years, Bailey was drawn into the fight against segregation. He joined actions such as a sit-in at a Greyhound bus station, picketing against discriminatory hiring practices at Baton Rouge businesses, and leading a march from the Southern University campus to downtown to support fellow students jailed for demonstrating. Bailey led a class boycott later, resulting in his expulsion. News of Bailey's ouster coursed through the civil rights community to Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, where sympathetic students had established a scholarship for a civil rights activist. The students raised $2,400 through community appeals, bake sales, and car washes to bring Bailey to Clark and continue his education. [6]

At Clark, he helped organize and became director of the Worcester Student Movement. He invited and hosted Malcolm X as a guest speaker at Clark, worked briefly with Abbie Hoffman in the Worcester leftist movement's early days, and interacted with such civil rights and student activist icons as James Meredith, John Lewis, Tom Hayden, and Allard Lowenstein. The Worcester Student Movement was active tutoring students from the city’s low-income neighborhoods. It also picketed against a downtown department store for not employing blacks as clerks, and organized demonstrations against a city manufacturing company. Bailey began to understand the power of law in advancing change as he assisted with the filing of legal complaints with the federal government to halt discrimination in the city. [7]

Political involvement, public service

With his newly minted degree, Bailey worked in New York as national director of the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council, recruiting law students for civil rights legal work in the South. Later, he moved to San Francisco, California to practice law. He was elected to the Berkeley City Council, where he served from 1971-73. In the tumultuous politics of Berkeley, he pushed efforts to open new job opportunities and for expanding housing, recreational, and child-care programs for residents of the city next to the University of California campus. Eventually, he became ensnared in the divisive, politics that dominated Berkeley city government at the time, and he was recalled from the council in 1973. [8]


In 1974 he returned to Memphis, where he opened a law practice with his brother, Walter Lee Bailey Jr. [9] [10] [11] In 1982 Bailey became part of a group of attorneys and activists who raised $144,000 to buy the Lorraine Motel, site of the King assassination. It had gone to foreclosure and was being sold at auction on the steps of the Shelby County Courthouse. [6] [12] [13]

A year later, Bailey made an unsuccessful run for Memphis mayor. He became more involved in working with others to preserve the motel and establish an civil rights museum there, organizing a foundation to raise money for this purpose. He served as the Board President from 1983 until the Museum opened in 1991. After lobbying to obtain public and private funding for the museum, Bailey resigned from its foundation board within months of the facility’s opening. Bailey said he felt fellow board members had lost sight of a central mission of the museum, which he felt was to inspire advances in civil rights. By then he had been elected as a circuit court judge. He said he envisioned the museum serving as a catalyst for activities aimed at what he said would “carry out the unfinished business of the civil rights movement”. [6] [12] [14]

The museum complex's exhibits trace the story of the struggle for African-American civil rights from the arrival of the first Africans in the American colonies in 1619 through the assassination of King in 1968. A 2001 expansion acquired new buildings for the museum, including the former Bessie Brewer's rooming house at nearby 418 South Main Street, where the shot that killed Dr. King was allegedly fired. In 2014, the main motel building re-opened after a major renovation that upgraded exhibits, adding many interactive elements, and building systems.[ citation needed ]

Law career

From 1976-83, he worked part-time for the Shelby County, Tennessee public defender's office, representing defendants in dozens of cases. During this period he also wrote a weekly opinion column for the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis. He hosted a local television program, Memphis Forum, and has appeared as a legal and political analyst for Court TV. [15] Before he was first elected as a judge in 1990, he had practiced law for 16 years in Memphis. His general law practice represented clients in criminal and civil cases. Much of his casework was in personal injury law. Bailey served three terms as president of the Memphis chapter of the National Bar Association. He was elected to three judicial terms and was twice nominated to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court.

After 19 years as a circuit court judge in Tennessee’s Thirtieth Judicial District, Bailey resigned Sept. 15, 2009 to resume a career as a civil trial lawyer. [16] He focused on medical malpractice, nursing home liability, and catastrophic injury. Bailey joined Wilkes & McHugh, P.A., to take part in major cases with a firm recognized as a pioneer in nursing home abuse litigation.[ citation needed ]

Film career

A member of the Screen Actors Guild, Bailey had worked in film for three decades, including with such directors as Oliver Stone, Miloš Forman, Michael Hausman, and Jim Jarmusch. He described acting as “hard work, but it's something different for me.” [17] In The People vs. Larry Flynt, Bailey played a judge in a movie that included a cameo by political consultant and pundit James Carville.

Bailey appeared in Cigarette Girl (2009), set in 2035, a future in which cigarette smokers have been ostracized into ghettos called “smoking sections” and a pack of cigarettes cost more than $60. [17] In Deadline (2012), he played a judge. [18]

Personal life/death

Bailey was married to the former Adrienne Marie Leslie; the couple had two sons, Justin and Merritt. Bailey died on July 12, 2015 of cancer at Methodist Hospital in his native Memphis, Tennessee. [19]

Partial filmography

Related Research Articles

Memphis, Tennessee City in Tennessee, United States

Memphis is a city located along the Mississippi River in southwestern Shelby County, Tennessee, United States. The 2018 city population was 650,618, making Memphis the largest city on the Mississippi River, the second most populous city in Tennessee, as well as the 26th largest city in the United States. Greater Memphis is the 42nd largest metropolitan area in the United States, with a population of 1,348,260 in 2017. The city is the anchor of West Tennessee and the greater Mid-South region, which includes portions of neighboring Arkansas, Mississippi, and the Missouri Bootheel. Memphis is the seat of Shelby County, the most populous county in Tennessee. As one of the more historic and culturally significant cities of the southern United States, the city features a wide variety of landscapes and distinct neighborhoods.

Howell Edmunds Jackson American judge

Howell Edmunds Jackson was an American attorney, politician, and jurist. He served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, as a United States Senator from Tennessee and as a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the United States Circuit Courts for the Sixth Circuit. Jackson was the first to bring a law school graduate with him to serve as his secretary-clerk on the Supreme Court; that secretary-clerk was James Clark McReynolds, who would later also became a Supreme Court Justice.

Ellis Louis Marsalis Sr. was an American businessman from New Orleans, Louisiana. He was a former poultry farmer turned hotelier, Esso franchise owner and civil rights activist.

Benjamin Hooks American civil rights leader

Benjamin Lawson Hooks was an American civil rights leader. A Baptist minister and practicing attorney, he served as executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1977 to 1992, and throughout his career was a vocal campaigner for civil rights in the United States.

National Civil Rights Museum hotel that was site of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., now a museum

The National Civil Rights Museum is a complex of museums and historic buildings in Memphis, Tennessee; its exhibits trace the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the 17th century to the present. The museum is built around the former Lorraine Motel which was the site of the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968; Dr. King died at St. Joseph's Hospital. Two other buildings and their adjacent property, also connected with the King assassination, have been acquired as part of the museum complex.

Charles Clark (judge) American judge

Charles Clark was a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He is, as of 2019, the highest ranking judicial official from Mississippi since Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II served on the United States Supreme Court in 1893.

Vanderbilt University Law School

Vanderbilt University Law School is a graduate school of Vanderbilt University. Established in 1874, it is one of the oldest law schools in the southern United States. Vanderbilt Law School has consistently ranked among the top 20 law schools in the nation. It is ranked 12th on Above the Law's 2018 Top Law School Rankings and 18th in the 2020 edition of U.S. News & World Report.

South Memphis, one of the oldest portions of Memphis, Tennessee, is a community stretching from Midtown and Downtown to the Mississippi state line. In its early days, it was primarily an agrarian community. South Memphis has many well-known neighborhoods including Whitehaven, Lauderdale Sub, Longview, Riverside, Lakeview Gardens, Prospect Park, Dukestown, Gaslight Square, Wilbert Heights, Mallory Heights, Dixie Heights, Barton Heights, Elliston Heights, Handy Holiday, Chickasaw Village, Pine Hill, Indian Hills, Bunker Hill, Westwood, Boxtown, West Junction, Walker Homes, Coro Lake, Nehemiah, and French Fort. Many of these neighborhoods are considered home to many famous hip hop/R&B singers and rappers. Many locations in South Memphis are also considered a hotbed for crime and violence due to the high amount of gang influence and the overall poverty level of the area. But South Memphis is known for its plentiful houses of worship including Mt. Vernon Baptist Church Westwood, St. Andrew AME Church, Washington Chapel CME Church, East Trigg Baptist Church, White's Chapel AME Church, Union Valley Baptist Church, Enon Springs Baptist Church, Warner Temple AME Zion Church, Unity Baptist Church, Ford's Chapel AME Zion Church, St. Augustine Catholic Church, and Monumental Baptist Church, just naming a few.

Northeastern University School of Law(NUSL) is the law school of Northeastern University in Boston. The School of Law is nationally recognized for its public interest law and cooperative legal education programs.

Thelton Henderson American judge

Thelton Eugene Henderson is an inactive Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. He has played an important role in the field of civil rights as a lawyer, educator, and jurist.

Janice M. Holder is an American judge who was a Tennessee Supreme Court justice from 1996–2014 and was Chief Justice of Tennessee from 2008 to 2010. She is the first woman ever to hold the chief justice position, and was succeeded in 2010 by another woman.

Harry Walker Wellford is an inactive Senior United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

Bailey Brown was a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and prior to that was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

Tom C. Clark United States federal judge

Thomas Campbell Clark was an American lawyer who served as the 59th United States Attorney General from 1945 to 1949. He was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1949 to 1967.

Odell Horton was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

Jon Phipps McCalla is a Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

The Mountaintop is a play by American playwright Katori Hall. It is a fictional depiction of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last night on earth set entirely in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel on the eve of his assassination in 1968.

African Americans are among the largest ethnic groups in the state of Tennessee, making up 17% of the state's population in 2010. African Americans arrived in the region prior to statehood. They lived both as slaves and as free citizens with restricted rights up to the Civil War. The state, and particularly the major cities of Memphis and Nashville have played important roles in African-American culture and the Civil Rights Movement.

This is a timeline of the 1954 to 1968 civil rights movement in the United States, a nonviolent mid-20th century freedom movement to gain legal equality and the enforcement of constitutional rights for African Americans. The goals of the movement included securing equal protection under the law, ending legally established racial discrimination, and gaining equal access to public facilities, education reform, fair housing, and the ability to vote.

Maxine (Atkins) Smith born in Memphis, Tennessee, United States, was an academic, civil rights activist, and school board official.


  1. Branston, John (June 14, 2006). "Larry Parrish vs. D'Army Bailey: When Worlds Collide". Memphis Flyer. Memphis, TN: Contemporary Media. Retrieved September 28, 2009.
  2. Whitehouse, Ken (September 20, 2006), "A Conversation with SC Nominee Bailey", Nashville Post, Nashville, TN
  3. Wilkes & McHugh, PA official website, wilkesmchugh.com; accessed July 19, 2015.
  4. "Wilkes & McHugh, P.A." Retrieved October 7, 2009.
  5. Ethics in America: Choosing Justice: Elections and Judicial Independence. Annenberg Media. Fall 2007. Retrieved October 7, 2009.
  6. 1 2 3 Bock, Linda (February 2, 2009). "Lifelong Fight for Civil Rights". Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Worcester, MA: Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp. Retrieved October 7, 2009.
  7. Jezer, Marty (1993). Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel. Rutgers University Press.
  8. A History Lesson From Berkeley in the 1970s. Category: Page One from The Berkeley Daily Planet
  9. Bailey, D'Army (September 23, 2003), "A History Lesson from Berkeley in the 1970s", Berkeley Daily Planet, Berkeley, CA, retrieved October 7, 2009[ permanent dead link ]
  10. Slater, Jack (October 1971), "The Guard Changes in Berkeley", Ebony Magazine, Berkeley, CA
  11. Granville Davis, J. Don (December 1974), "The Review of Black Political Economy", The Review of Black Political Economy
  12. 1 2 Norment, Lynn (April 1992), "Memphis Motel Becomes a Shrine", Ebony Magazine, Berkeley, CA
  13. "ABC Evening News". ABC Evening News. December 13, 1982.
  14. "ABC Evening News". ABC Evening News. September 2009.
  15. Interview with D'Army Bailey, September 2009
  16. Dries, Bill (September 1, 2009). "Judge's Resignation Spotlights Nominating Commission". Memphis Daily News. Retrieved August 31, 2009.
  17. 1 2 Leonard, Gill (October 29, 2009). "D'Army Bailey: Activist, Attorney, Actor". Memphis Flyer. Retrieved August 31, 2009.)
  18. "Murder Mystery Filming To Be Set In Giles County Courtroom" Archived 2011-02-05 at the Wayback Machine , Pulaski Citizen; accessed July 16, 2015.
  19. Notice of death of D'Army Bailey Archived 2015-07-13 at the Wayback Machine , startribune.com; accessed July 16, 2015.