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Allison Babka Burney

January 20, 2006

Judge Theodore McMillian, 1919-2006

Judge Theodore McMillian, one of the first African Americans admitted to the Saint Louis University School of Law in the 1940s, died Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2006. He was 86.

Theodore McMillian
Photo courtesy of Wiley Price, from the book, Lift Every Voice and Sing © 1999

Breaking Barriers
McMillian broke racial barriers throughout his law career. After graduating first in his class at SLU in 1949, McMillian became the first African-American assistant prosecutor in the city of St. Louis. Three years later, Missouri Governor Phil M. Donnelly appointed him the first African-American judge for the city of St. Louis.

In 1972, McMillian was elected to the Missouri Court of Appeals-Eastern District by Governor Warren E. Hearnes and became the first member of his race to serve on that court. In 1978, he became the first and only African-American to reach the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Nominated by President Jimmy Carter, he was unanimously confirmed in 20 minutes. During his tenure, McMillian wrote landmark decisions on desegregation, free speech, civil rights, employment discrimination and affirmative action.

McMillian graduated first in his class at Vashon High School in St. Louis in just three years. He earned degrees in physics and mathematics from Lincoln University before attending SLU’s law school.

Dedicated to St. Louis
McMillian committed himself to improving the St. Louis area. He is the past president and founder of the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, one of the founders of the anti-poverty agency Human Development Corp., and founder of what is now the Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. He was president of the St. Louis Urban League for a decade and served on the board of St. Louis' Catholic Charities.

Recognizing his 80th birthday in 1999, McMillian donated $250,000 to SLU’s School of Law to assist students with financial aid. The Theodore McMillian Scholarship Fund requires recipients to serve as interns for community organizations.

Commentary by a Friend and Colleague
Below, Jeffrey E. Lewis, J.D., dean of the School of Law, writes about McMillian’s impact on law, community service and perseverance.

The passing of Judge Theodore McMillian on Jan. 18, 2006, also was the passing of an era for St. Louis. “The Judge,” as most of us called him in his later years, fought bravely in World War II and returned home to fight bravely again. Our world is better in so many ways because of Judge McMillian. He was humble and strong; determined and kind; bright and energetic. He was always quick with a smile. When he shook your hand, his eyes sparkled with interest. He knew how to connect with people.

He faced many obstacles in his life and never seemed to complain. He just overcame those obstacles and, in doing so, paved the way for those who followed. He graduated first in his class from Saint Louis University School of Law. He served as a prosecutor, a state trial and appellate judge, and he was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit by President Jimmy Carter. He was hearing cases right up until the time of his death. He was not a man who had any interest in retirement. And he was a trailblazer in virtually everything he did.

His contributions to the law and our community have been chronicled many times in recent years. He was a beloved member of the law school community at Saint Louis University. He gave his time and resources to support our students and their teachers. He cared deeply about the education of lawyers; he made that caring very real through his presence in the classroom and courtrooms of his alma mater over the years. My wife and I count ourselves amongst those lucky to have crossed his path — he married us.

Judge McMillian once said that he did not want to be remembered for his accomplishments, but rather that he wished to be remembered by those to whom he gave a helping hand. There are countless men and women in St. Louis — young and old, rich and poor, and of every race, religion and ethnic origin — who have been touched by his kindness and generosity.

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