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Judge George Leighton buried at Arlington National Cemetery

Crusader Staff Report

Chicago Judge George Leighton, the namesake of the Cook County Criminal Courts building at 26th and California, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA on Monday, November 5.

The burial fulfills a dying wish for Leighton, a longtime civil rights activist who passed away on June 6. He was 105.

Leighton was a longtime county and federal judge. He was the first Black judge to sit on the Illinois Appellate Court.

Leighton did not complete elementary school. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Howard University in 1940.  That same year, he was admitted to Harvard Law School without taking the entrance exam. The dean of the law school was so impressed with Leighton’s life story during a meeting, he waived the admission requirements to the prestigious school.

Leighton’s law school education was interrupted by his military service in World War II. From 1942 to 1945, during World War II, Leighton served in the United States Army. He achieved the rank of Captain and was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Service Metal, Bronze Star. He returned to returned to Harvard Law School and earned a Bachelor of Laws in 1946.

Leighton moved to Chicago that same year. In 1964 he was elected as a judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. In 1969, he was appointed as Illinois’ first Black judge with the First District Appellate Court of Illinois and served until 1976.

President Gerald Ford in 1975 nominated Leighton to a seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. After his retirement from the federal bench in 1987, Leighton returned to practicing law with the firm of Earl L. Neal & Associates. He retired from the law firm of Neal & Leroy at age 99.

In 1951, Leighton was arrested and accused of inciting riots for representing Harvey Clark, a Black man who tried moving into an apartment in segregated Cicero.

In 2012, the Cook County Criminal Courthouse was renamed The Honorable George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building.

images imgs hed art12795wideaDespite his prominence, Leighton’s final wish to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery was not guaranteed because of the U.S. Army’s strict rules for burials.

But after U.S. Senator Dick Durbin discovered in archived military records that Leighton had been a prisoner in a Japanese P.O.W. camp, Leighton became an eligible applicant for burial at the prominent cemetery outside of Washington, D.C. Leighton received a purple heart for his service in WWII.

U.S. District Chief Judge Rubén Castillo was among a group of family to attend the ceremony.

“Judge Leighton was a true patriot in every sense of the word –– from his service to our nation during World War II to his courageous work as a civil rights attorney to his years of distinguished service on both the state and federal court benches,” Castillo said in a statement.


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