Calvin Reid Mapp Sr. left the military for teaching, teaching for law enforcement, law enforcement for the law, and law for the judicial bench, as the first black judge in Miami-Dade County.
Gov. Reubin Askew appointed Mapp to fill one of three county judgeships that the Florida Legislature created in 1973. He was 48 at the time, with seven years of trial experience.
Repeatedly reelected — with Miami Herald endorsements — he remained on the bench until his 1994 retirement, after which he served as a Senior Judge, filling in for sitting judges as needed, until 2000.
He served on a Selective Service board, on the Community Relations Board, and on the county’s HUD advisory board.
Born and raised in segregated Miami, Mapp was ambitious and civic-minded. He bought into a Lum’s restaurant and a dry cleaning store, and acted as a peacemaker during periods of inner-city turmoil.
During one 1970 violent outburst in Brownsville, Mapp, then in a private law practice, told an angry gathering: “All black people need to work toward a united front. The first thing we need to do is spread the word that there will be no more fighting You can’t even go to the corner drugstore for a pill if needed. Who’s suffering? You and me.’’
Born Sept. 10, 1924, Mapp died Nov. 27. Son Corey Mapp, who cared for his father at home near Miami Shores, said his father suffered from dementia, and had contracted pneumonia.
A U.S. Army combat-zone veteran of World War II with the 1324th Engineer General Service Regiment, Mapp was 88.
He was the son of Herschel Mapp and Edna Mapp — an unrelated woman who became Edna Mapp Mapp when she married — and the stepson of Richard E.S. Toomey, southeast Florida’s first black lawyer.
Mapp grew up on Northwest Fifth Court in Overtown lost to Interstate 95 construction. He attended Dunbar Elementary School then Booker T. Washington High, where he later taught biology and chemistry and met his future wife, English teacher Catherine Virginia Nelson.
In 1952, they married at the Historic Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Overtown. Catherine Mapp’s funeral was held there in December 2010; Calvin Mapp’s on Saturday.
During their 58-year partnership, Calvin Mapp relied on his wife to run his campaigns and to keep him focused, said son Corey.
Initially, he said, his father was “proud’’ of becoming a judge but faced it with “a lot of trepidation because he was the first, and he wondered if he was being set up for failure. My mother said there were things he could and couldn’t do’’ to remain above reproach.
So they kept to what their son called “a small and tight circle of friends...My mother always told my father that you have to do things two, three times better, and he took that to heart.’’
He described his father’s judicial demeanor as “straightforward,’’ although some found him “crusty and abrasive.’’
Having been a prosecutor for two years, “he was the one that the State Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender fed their young to,’’ said Corey. “He was rough and rugged on all of them.’’
He even sent one fledgling prosecutor to jail.
Assistant State Attorney Greg Lattimer, age 25 in 1982, ran afoul of Mapp during an armed robbery trial. Mapp was an acting circuit court judge at the time.
Lattimer wanted a witness to testify in Spanish. Mapp thought the man spoke “excellent’’ English, and denied Lattimer’s request.
According to a news report, Lattimer said he couldn’t obey the instruction, and that the judge would have to find him in contempt. Mapp promptly did so, then had the young lawyer hauled out in handcuffs.
Lattimer spent 30 minutes of a 30-day sentence behind bars, and later told a reporter: “It was horrible.’’
Mapp was no less tough on defendants. In 1979, he sentenced a 46-year-old roofer to a year in jail for driving without a license and making an improper turn.
A newspaper story noted that such infractions usually brought a two-month sentence, but Mapp, who called the defendant “a menace to society,’’ took into account the driver’s many drunk-driving arrests.
Mapp, who graduated from Atlanta’s Morris Brown College, joined the segregated Miami Police Department in 1952.
When he left in 1960, the department still hadn’t integrated. Mapp had spent his police career in the lone all-black precinct, where they were called “patrolmen’’ rather than officers, and were forbidden to arrest whites.
He also taught in traffic school.
While in the department, Mapp sponsored a group for black teens who sought to curb “adult delinquency.’’ He told the Herald in 1954 that he was especially concerned about unreported child molestation.
“These teenagers can do a lot of good,’’ he said. “They get around a lot and they know what’s going on.’’
When he left the department, Mapp enrolled at Howard University Law School, worked summers as a waiter at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, and “came home when he could,’’ his son said.
State Attorney Richard Gerstein hired Mapp in 1963. He left for private practice with the newly-formed firm of Mathews and Mathews, Braynon, and Mapp.
But, said his son, he never lost his affinity for physical work. When he came home from the courthouse, Mapp would “get on his riding lawnmower and get out his weed eater. Dad just wanted to do whatever was opposite of his work life.’’
In addition to his son Corey, Mapp is survived by son Calvin R. Mapp Jr.