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Plans in the works to honor late judge James B. Sanderlin

Published April 28, 2007


He might have prospered as a wealthy corporate lawyer in Washington, D.C.

But the young lawyer with the warm smile and a passion for justice chose instead to come to Pinellas County in 1962, where the social sea changes of the 1960s were just beginning to rub out the old ways.

James B. Sanderlin, a native of Petersburg, Va., who became a Pinellas County civil rights giant, died 17 years ago.

His legacy is well established. But Raymond Sanderlin is planning an annual event that would formally recall his brother's memory and benefit the family center named in his honor.

"He wanted to make a difference, " said Raymond Sanderlin, a St. Petersburg resident.

"During that time it was unheard of, him coming here. We were expecting him to come to Washington after graduation from Boston University, and he'd already made plans to come to Washington and practice."

Fred Minnis, an established African-American lawyer in St. Petersburg, journeyed to Boston University specifically to attract young legal minds inclined toward civil rights law.

"He was trying to recruit Afro-American lawyers to come down because there weren't many here, and that's how he recruited Jim, " Sanderlin said. "Also, Jim had taken some courses in Southern law that helped give him the idea of coming down here."

His impact was monumental.

James Sanderlin sued the county School Board to bring an end to separate schools based on race. The suit led to a federal desegregation order.

He represented the city's sanitation workers, most of them black, to bring them equal pay. He sued the city on behalf of 12 African-American police officers so they could earn professional advancement by patrolling the entire city, not just black neighborhoods.

In 1972, voters elected him as Pinellas County's first black judge, and in 1985 then-Gov. Bob Graham appointed him as the first African-American to sit on the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Sanderlin died in 1990 at age 61 after battling a brain disorder known as Pick's disease for several years.

Raymond Sanderlin said the idea to honor his brother annually emerged at a recent workshop at the James B. Sanderlin Family Center. He envisions a fundraiser with a widely recognized speaker to deliver a keynote address.

The first event will take place a year from now, Sanderlin said.

[Last modified April 27, 2007, 22:57:57]

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