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Charles Freeman, first Black on Illinois Supreme Court, dies at 86

(WEEK) — Illinois’ first African American chief justice has died at the age of 86.

Justice Charles E. Freeman, who served on the Illinois Supreme Court from 1990 to 2018, died on Monday.

Freeman was born in Richmond, Virginia on December 12, 1933, and was a descendant of slaves freed by Quakers before the American Civil War, according to a release by the Illinois Supreme Court.

He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Virginia Union University in 1954 and earned his Juris Doctor from the John Marshall Law School in 1962.

Freeman won election to the Cook County Circuit Court in 1976 and served for 10 years. During that tenure he was the first African American to swear in a Chicago Mayor, when he administered the oath of office in 1983 to his longtime friend, Harold Washington. For several years, the two attorneys had shared an office in Chicago.

In 1997, the Supreme Court justices chose Freeman to serve as Chief Justice, succeeding Justice James Heiple to become the first African American to lead a branch of Illinois government.

Asked about the significance of being the first African American Chief Justice, Freeman responded, “I’m an African American who now has become chief judge; I’m not an African American chief justice. I have no different perception on what course I would take because of my heritage.”

Freeman won retention to the Court in 2000 and 2010, both with nearly 80 percent of the vote.

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