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  • Writer's pictureDoctor Detroit

Standing on the shoulders of Judge Geraldine Bledsoe Ford

Updated: Mar 13

Today marks a historic moment as Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black female Supreme Court Associate Justice, presides over her inaugural case as the Supreme Court commences its new term. In commemorating this milestone, it's essential to recognize one of Detroit's own trailblazers, Judge Geraldine Bledsoe Ford, whose legacy has paved the way for others.

Judge Geraldine Bledsoe Ford earned her bachelor's degree in education from the University of Michigan in 1948 and a law degree from Wayne State University in 1951. Throughout her illustrious career, she continually shattered barriers. In 1962, she became the first Black woman to serve as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan. Four years later, she achieved another milestone by becoming Michigan's first Black female judge when she assumed the bench in 1966 as a Recorder's Court judge in Detroit. She dedicated over three decades to her judicial service, retiring in 1999.

In her office, Judge Bledsoe Ford prominently displayed a portrait of her grandfather, William Bledsoe Sr., adorned in a graduation cap and gown. He, a former slave who defied the odds to attain a college education, symbolized her family's unwavering commitment to educational excellence. Reflecting on her upbringing in a 1998 interview with the Detroit Free Press, Judge Bledsoe Ford attributed her success to her parents, who instilled in her the courage to pursue her dreams, and to the supportive North End community.

Her lifelong aspiration to become a lawyer manifested at a young age. At 13, she fearlessly challenged segregation at an ice cream parlor, citing the Diggs Civil Rights Law, which guaranteed equal accommodations in Michigan. Despite facing resistance, she stood her ground, empowered by her father, the renowned civil rights activist and attorney Harold Bledsoe, who advocated on her behalf, ensuring justice prevailed.

Judge Karen Fort Hood aptly remarked, "We stand on her shoulders," acknowledging Judge Bledsoe Ford's pioneering spirit that paved the way for future generations of African-American judges. Her impact extended beyond racial barriers; she imparted invaluable lessons on dignity, respect, and service to fellow judges like Kym Worthy and Cynthia Stephens.

In her parting words upon retirement, Judge Geraldine Bledsoe Ford underscored the profound significance of the legal profession in advancing humanity's welfare. She urged aspiring lawyers to embody a genuine commitment to social progress, viewing law as a noble service to humanity.

To delve deeper into Judge Geraldine Bledsoe Ford's remarkable journey, refer to the Detroit Free Press article dated December 28, 1998, titled "Barrier-breaking Detroit judge retires after fulfilling a legacy of law."


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