T. Virgil Pittman
|Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama|
July 15, 1981 –March 28, 2006
|Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama|
|Preceded by||Daniel Holcombe Thomas|
|Succeeded by||William Brevard Hand|
|Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama|
June 29, 1966 –June 2, 1970
|Appointed by||Lyndon B. Johnson|
|Preceded by||Seat established by 80 Stat. 75|
|Succeeded by||Seat abolished|
|Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama|
June 29, 1966 –July 15, 1981
|Appointed by||Lyndon B. Johnson|
|Preceded by||Seat established by 80 Stat. 75|
|Succeeded by||Emmett Ripley Cox|
Thomas Virgil Pittman
March 28, 1916
|Died||January 6, 2012 95) (aged|
|Resting place||Pine Crest Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama|
|Spouse(s)||Floy Lasseter (d.)|
Lily Lea Verneuille
|Education|| University of Alabama (B.S.)|
University of Alabama School of Law (LL.B.)
Thomas Virgil Pittman (March 28, 1916 – January 6, 2012) was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama and the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.
Born in Enterprise, Alabama to the former Annie Lee Logan (1889-1982), the second wife of W.O. Pittman (1879-1965), Pittman had four older step-siblings and an older brother, Oscar L. Pittman. He picked cotton alongside both whites and blacks during the Great Depression. His ancestors had been among the white pioneers who settled Coffee County. While at the University of Alabama, Pittman joined the United States Army Reserve, serving from 1938 to 1942. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1939 and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1940.
Pittman entered federal service as a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1940 to 1944. He served in the United States Naval Reserve and was called to duty as a lieutenant near the end of World War II, serving from 1944 to 1946.Upon discharge, he entered private practice in Gadsden, Alabama from 1946 to 1951, practicing as the law firm of Pittman & Miller. Pittman became a Circuit Judge of the 16th Judicial Circuit Court of Alabama from 1951 to 1953, and the circuit's Presiding Judge from 1953 to 1966. He also taught as a lecturer at the University of Alabama Center at Gadsden from 1948 to 1966.
President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Judge Pittman on June 13, 1966, to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama and the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, a new joint seat authorized by 80 Stat. 75. The United States Senate confirmed the nomination on June 29, 1966, and Pittman received his commission on June 29, 1966. For several years he traveled in a circuit of federal courthouses in Montgomery, Mobile, Selma, Dothan and Opelika. His service on the Middle District terminated on June 2, 1970, when he was reassigned to only the Southern District, as its Chief Judge Daniel Holcombe Thomas neared retirement. Pittman served as Chief Judge of the Southern District from 1971 to 1981. He became the first federal judge in Mobile to hire black and female law clerks.Judge Pittman assumed senior status on July 15, 1981, but continued with a reduced docket for decades.
During the Civil Rights Era, Judge Pittman was assigned two complex cases brought by the NAACP involving at-large offices in Mobile County, Alabama. Former Chief Judge Thomas had handled the Birdie Mae Davis school desegregation case for decades, which ultimately reached the United States Supreme Court twice, but would be overshadowed by school desegregation cases from Virginia and North Carolina. After Judge Thomas' assumed senior status in 1971, Judge William Brevard Hand, would handle that case, which formally ended on March 27, 1997. Judge Pittman was assigned the election case with Wiley Bolden as lead plaintiff and which concerned at large election of Mobile County's three commissioners (each elected at-large and who governed the county, each being named Mobile's mayor during his rotating designation as president); Judge Hand had recused himself because his former firm represented the city. A similar case, also discussed below, involved the at-large election of the school board, and the lead plaintiff was Lila Brown. At the heart of both cases was the at-large election system begun following the 1911 revision of Alabama's constitution; no African Americans had thereafter won any county-wide office.
Other important or controversial cases which Judge Pittman handled involved the Choctaw County Schools (1968), Mobile police officers (1971), Mobile Sheriff Thomas Purvis (1977), Mobile police officers (1978), Choctaw County jail food (1980) and Mobile County jail overcrowding (1981).
The Bolden case went to trial on July 12, 1976; and on October 21, 1976, Judge Pittman issued a decision for the plaintiffswhich led to considerable controversy. The "Constitutional Crisis Committee" asked for Pittman's impeachment, and Mobile commissioner and then-mayor Lambert C. Mims offered to sign the impeachment petition, but the city attorney advised against it. While 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals evaluated his decision, Judge Pittman postponed the 1977 city election, allowing the three committeemen elected in 1973 to remain in office, and the appellate court later affirmed Judge Pittman's decision.
Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and in Mobile v. Bolden reversed the appellate judgment and vacated Judge Pittman's decision. To comply, Judge Pittman held a second hearing beginning May 1981, although this time elections were not postponed. Meanwhile a "smoking gun" letter was discovered and admitted into evidence--written by Mobile lawyer and Congressman Frederick G. Bromberg to the Alabama legislature in 1909, it clearly indicated the purpose of the at-large system was to prevent blacks from holding office.Both Commissioners Mims and Greenough promised not to appeal the second Bolden decision if the city lost, although Commissioner Robert Doyle avoided the issue. Ultimately, Doyle won re-election immediately, and both Mims and Greenough won re-election in runoffs. However, before the second trial Michael Donald was found beaten, strangled and with his throat slashed. Four Ku Klux Klan members were convicted for the crime in state court, and his mother won a $7 million settlement that effectively ended the Klan's operations in Alabama.
Judge Pittman's second Bolden decision, issued on April 15, 1982 also favored the plaintiffs.On January 31, 1983, rather than appeal, all parties agreed to a settlement whereby the next election for city office would be based on districts rather than at-large. The Alabama legislature passed appropriate legislation, introduced by state representative Mary Zoghby, and 72% of state voters on May 15, 1985 approved switching to a mayor-council form of government. Three African Americans were elected among the 7 new districts, the first blacks to serve in Mobile's government since Reconstruction.
Lila G. Brown's case alleging that at-large elections of members of the Mobile County school board diluted the voting strength of African Americans in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments began in 1976. Thus it came more than a decade since the Birdie Mae Davis school desegregation case had begun, and after the November 1974 elections replaced long-time school board members Charles McNeil and William Crane with young local attorney Dan Alexander (who would become the school board's dominant force for decades, but after declining to run for election after resolution of the Brown legal case, would be convicted for extorting kickbacks from local architects as Mobile's schools finally began addressing infrastructure deficits in 1977) and Ruth Drago (a retired teacher and former president of the Mobile County Education Association and Alabama Education Association). In the 1976 election, Hiram Bosarge (a retired army veteran who would decades later be acquitted despite Alexander's conviction), replaced veteran school commissioner Robert Williams.
Judge Pittman had conducted a bench trial, and (before the November 1978 elections) had ordered five single-member school board districts, with Alexander made the non-voting board president, and the Fifth Circuit had affirmed. Retired air force officer Norman Cox and local dentist and NAACP president Robert Gilliard had been elected as the school board's first black members, each from a majority-black district.However, Alexander was dissatisfied by losing his vote, and the case was ultimately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and held pending the decision in Mobile v. Bolden, then vacated in light of that decision. When Alexander tried to strip votes from Gilliard and Cox, Judge PIttman affirmed their offices, as well as single-member districts for the upcoming September election, and again denied Alexander a vote in school board meetings. Alexander called for Judge Pittman's removal, and rhetoric heated in 1980. The Fifth Circuit allowed Alexander to remain on the board pending the new trial scheduled for March 1981. In January 1982 the school board approved a plan to end the Birdie Mae Davis litigation handled by Judge Hand, which plan included a committee to design a plan to create a unified school system and appointment of two sociologists as a professional observation team.
However, Judge Pittman's orders from the Bolden and Brown cases proved controversial, and appeared to require a special school board election in 1983. When the new 11th Circuit affirmed his order and the Supreme Court denied the school board's' appeal, Alexander declined to seek election, as did long-time board member Berger, so their seats were won by Republican Howard (Chipper) Mathis III and Judy McCain (who soon was elected the board's president and promised like Mathis to direct money and energy toward school rooms rather than courtrooms).
Judge Pittman remained married to his first wife, Floy Lassater, for 56 years, even becoming her main caregiver when she was stricken with Alzheimer's disease. They raised a son (W. Lee Pittman) and a daughter Karen Pittman Gordy.Several years after her death, he remarried, at age 86, to Lily Vermeuille, who was also active in Mobile's First Baptist Church, herself had a son Walter Verneuille and a daughter Lea Verneuille, and ultimately survived him. Even while a federal judge, Pittman volunteered for a meals-on-wheels program, delivering meals to the elderly. He also was extremely scrupulous about court finances, going to a nearby pay phone rather than make personal phone calls on the line to his judicial chambers. He was also a life trustee of Samford University.
Judge Pittman fully retired in March 2006, aged 89. At the year's end, the Mobile and Baldwin County bar associations awarded him the 2007 Howell Heflin award for bringing honor to the legal profession. On January 6, 2012, when Judge Helflin died in Mobile, Alabama.Although once a pariah in Mobile such that a cross was burned on his lawn and he stopped going to church for six months lest his presence lead to an attack on the congregation, by his death Judge had become much admired, and Mobile's city council passed a resolution honoring him.
Several of his law clerks became judges, including U.S. Magistrate Judge Sonja Bivens, and Alabama Circuit Court Judge Craig Sorrell Pittman.
The United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama is a federal court in the Eleventh Circuit.
The United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama is a federal court in the Eleventh Circuit.
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama is a federal court in the Eleventh Circuit.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is a leading United States civil rights organization and law firm based in New York City.
Browder v. Gayle, 142 F. Supp. 707 (1956), was a case heard before a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on Montgomery and Alabama state bus segregation laws. The panel consisted of Middle District of Alabama Judge Frank Minis Johnson, Northern District of Alabama Judge Seybourn Harris Lynne, and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Rives. The main plaintiffs in the case were Aurelia Browder, Claudette Colvin, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith. Jeanetta Reese had originally been a plaintiff in the case, but intimidation by members of the white community caused her to withdraw in February. She falsely claimed she had not agreed to the lawsuit, which led to an unsuccessful attempt to disbar Fred Gray for supposedly improperly representing her.
Fred David Gray is a civil rights attorney, preacher and activist who practices law in Alabama. He litigated several major civil rights cases in Alabama, including some that reached the United States Supreme Court for rulings. He served as the President of the National Bar Association in 1985, and in 2001 was elected as the first African-American President of the Alabama State Bar.
Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339 (1960), was a United States Supreme Court decision that found an electoral district with boundaries created to disenfranchise blacks violated the Fifteenth Amendment.
Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55 (1980), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that disproportionate effects alone, absent purposeful discrimination, are insufficient to establish a claim of racial discrimination affecting voting.
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John L. LeFlore (1903–1976) was a civil rights leader and politician in Mobile, Alabama. While working for the United States Postal Service, LeFlore worked for integration. He founded the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1925 and led it for decades. During the Massive resistance controversy over school desegregation, Alabama expelled the NAACP in 1956, so LeFlore helped found the Non-Partisan Voting League. He served as its director of casework from 1959 until his death, including organizing two lawsuits which reached the United States Supreme Court, one concerning Mobile's at-large method of selecting the commissioners who ran the city, and one which led to desegregation of Mobile County's schools. In 1974 LeFlore won election to Alabama's House of Representatives, but died during his term.
Emmett Ripley Cox is an inactive Senior United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.
Robert Tait Ervin was an Alabama lawyer who became United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.
William Brevard Hand was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.
Monroe Gunn McKay was a Senior United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
Daniel Holcombe Thomas was a United States District Judge who served nearly five decades on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.
Lambert C. Mims was a politician and author who for two decades was a member of the City Commission of Mobile, Alabama (1965-1985). During this period, he also served co-terminously in several one-year terms as the commission's president and city's mayor. Deeply religious, he saw morality as a cornerstone of Mobile's community. His two decades in public service were overshadowed by a controversial corruption conviction in 1990.
Joseph Nicholas Langan (1912–2004) was an American lawyer, soldier and Democratic politician who served in both houses of the Alabama legislature and became known for his progressive policies in Mobile, Alabama following his military service in World War II. After becoming one of only two legislators to oppose the Boswell Amendment to restrict African American suffrage, Langan failed to win re-election to the Alabama Senate. Undeterred, Langan won election and re-election to the Mobile City Commission, his native city's three-member governing body. Thus he also served several one-year terms as Mayor of Mobile, an office rotated among the three commissioners.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in the U.S. state of Alabama since June 26, 2015, after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, though not all counties participated, taking advantage of an exemption dating from the Civil Rights Era that allowed counties to avoid performing interracial marriages. On August 29, 2019, the state changed its marriage law, replacing the option of counties issuing marriage licenses and performing ceremonies with the requirement of counties issuing and recording marriage certificates. All counties complied, including with interracial and same-sex couples.
Graymont Elementary School was first opened in 1908 as a part of the then independent town of Graymont, in Jefferson County, Alabama. It taught elementary students from the local community for 81 years. Graymont Elementary was the first school in the Birmingham system to be integrated.
Mary Elizabeth Stephens Zoghby is a nonprofit executive and Democratic politician from Mobile, Alabama who represented Mobile in the Alabama legislature for fifteen years (1978-1994).
Seat established by 80 Stat. 75
|Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama |
Seat established by 80 Stat. 75
| Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama |
Emmett Ripley Cox
Daniel Holcombe Thomas
|Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama |
William Brevard Hand