Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

In Memoriam: Johnnie L. Cochran Jr

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

In Memoriam: Johnnie L. Cochran Jr

Article excerpt


We lost Johnnie Cochran recently. America lost a good man. Education lost a friend. Black Issues In Higher Education lost a friend. I personally lost a friend.

Johnnie was so much more than the celebrity his legal pursuits and victories portrayed him to be. Make no mistake - he knew the importance of drama and poignancy in conveying a message - as evidenced in his most famous quote: "If it does not fit, you must acquit." But he also knew that words -just words - could not stand alone. A quality defense had to be comprehensive, polished and effectively presented.

The great-grandson of slaves, Johnnie was born in Shreveport, La. At the age of 12, his family moved to Los Angeles, where he was one of the first Black students to integrate the city schools. It was during these formative years that he came to know the work of Thurgood Marshall, the lead attorney for the NAACP in the Brown v. Board of Education legal proceedings before the U.S. Supreme Court. He writes in his 2003 book, A Lawyer's Life, that this knowledge of America's foremost Black attorney of the time and his hunger for education became his inspiration for pursuing a legal career.

Johnnie's personal influence on the lives of people was immeasurable and went far beyond those he represented in the courtroom. He studied at the University of California at Los Angeles and Loyola Law School and was a mentor to many Black men and women who followed in his footsteps. His position as both a role model and friend has been cited by many as the inspiration they needed to complete their studies and enter their respective career fields, be it as a lawyer, doctor, engineer or another profession.

But Johnnie never forgot his Southern roots, and the years that followed would see him supporting people of color and education in diverse ways. Though not an alumnus, Johnnie was a friend of historically Black colleges and universities because he recognized the unique role these institutions play in the American education enterprise. Among others, he was a strong supporter of Alabama A&M University, my alma mater. His support for HBCUs was educational, financial and spiritual, because he knew all three could lead to positive results.

In the courtroom, long before his representation of high-profile clients, Johnnie became identified for his zeal and the presence he commanded when he stepped before the bench. …

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