DEATHS

Hugo L. Black Jr., prominent attorney, dies at 91

 

cteproff@MiamiHerald.com

After the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education decision that desegregated public schools, life in his native Alabama became more difficult for Hugo Lafayette Black Jr.

As the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Hugo Lafayette Black, who was part of the unanimous decision, the younger Black began receiving threats from people who said they would burn crosses in his yard.

There were times when Black, a lawyer, had to hide in the courthouse so he wouldn’t make a case harder to try for his colleagues. Hardest for him was the taunts his young son received at school.

By the early 1960s — saying he had had enough — the younger Black moved his young family to what is now Pinecrest.

Black, a venerable Miami attorney and author of a memoir about his father titled My Father: A Remembrance, died on Monday at his home in Pinecrest. He was 91.

Black, a well-known trial attorney handling everything from difficult divorces to anti-trust cases, maintained a law office in Coral Gables, where he practiced until his death. “He was really blessed with loving what he did,” said his daughter Margaret Hartley Black.

Born on April 29, 1922, in Birmingham, Ala.. , Black was the oldest of three children. His father, who grew up in a poor rural community in Alabama, began his law career and then became a U.S. senator in 1926 before being appointed to the Supreme Court in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His mother, Josephine Foster, was a housewife .

When the younger Black graduated from high school, he went to the University of Alabama until he was drafted into the Army and stayed stateside during World War II. He then went back to the University of Alabama and in 1946 graduated with an English degree. He later went to Yale Law School where in 1949 he graduated second in his class.

He returned to Birmingham where he began a labor law practice. He did, however, consider following in his father’s footsteps, said his daughter.

“I definitely had politics in mind,” he wrote in his book about his father.

But in 1952 his father told him to come to Washington, D.C. immediately, because he had to talk about something important, said Roger Newman, who wrote a book about Justice Black. His father told him that if he was elected to Congress he would be under constant political attack at home because the high court would soon have some important decisions dealing with school segregation, Newman said.

So the younger Black decided not to run. He stayed in Alabama, but not for long, said his daughter. “He realized it wasn’t a place to raise a family,” she said.

With his wife Bessie Graham Hobson Black, who died in 2000, and his three young children he moved to Miami.

And soon began making a name for himself in law circles. “He became one of the finest trial lawyers in Miami,” said longtime friend former Miami-Dade Circuit Chief Judge Gerald T. Wetherington. “He was an extremely good writer and he loved jury trials.”

In the court room, Black was assertive, but “juries loved him.”

“Jurors loved him because he never talked down to them,” said Phillip Hubbart a former judge with of the state Third District Court of Appeal.

With his Southern accent, Black’s friends and family say he was able to “get in the jury box” and win his cases. Some his clients included CBS and comedian Jackie Gleason Black handled Gleason’s business deals, said Newman.

Black became an author penning two law guides in addition to the book about his father.

Perhaps one of the hardest times in Black’s life came when his son Hugo Black III, a former state legislator, died suddenly in 2007 from internal bleeding.

“He was extremely hurt,” said Margaret Black. His son, an attorney, had followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps.

His partner Bonnie Losak-Jimenez said while Black had slowed down in recent years he still gave his input on cases and wanted to be involved.

“He was a brilliant man, who knew how to win cases,” she said.

Outside of the courtroom, Black was a dedicated family man who had a knack for tennis and loved to read the classics, including Aristotle.

One of his favorite subjects was his father. He would tell his law buddies stories about his dad’s cases including his most famous, Brown vs. Board of Education.

“We would get the story behind the scenes,” said Gerald Kogan, a former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

Margaret Black agreed. “His father was his hero,” she said.

In addition to his daughter, Margaret Hartley Black, Black is survived by his daughter Elizabeth Graham Black.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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