J. Richmond Pearson

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J. Richmond Pearson

J. Richmond Pearson (born January 10, 1930 in Birmingham; died October 22, 2014) was an attorney, circuit court judge and state senator.

Pearson was the youngest of seven children born to William U. and Ruth J. Pearson of Birmingham. He attended Washington Elementary School and Parker Industrial High School. He served in the U.S. Army, then earned an undergraduate degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia where he earned the nickname "Icewater" for his ability to keep cool under pressure. He completed his law degree at Howard University in Washington D.C. before returning to Birmingham to practice law. He was admitted to the Alabama State Bar in 1958 and worked for Oscar Adams before establishing his own office near Kelly Ingram Park.

During the Civil Rights Movement Pearson was active in defending individuals arrested for protesting, including his fellow Morehouse alumnus Martin Luther King Jr. He participated in federal lawsuits challenging discrimination in public accommodations and hiring.

Pearson was appointed assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama by President Lyndon Johnson. He was one of the first two African Americans elected , since Reconstruction, to the Alabama State Senate in 1974. While there he crafted legislation which provided Alabama A&M University and Alabama State University with independent boards of trustees. He was appointed chair of the Senate's Finance and Taxation Committee by George McMillan in 1978. In that role he helped secure funding for the substance abuse treatment program now known as Pearson Hall and for construction of the Bill Harris Arena at the Alabama State Fairgrounds. Pearson also became known for his use of the filibuster to block legislation.

Governor George Wallace appointed Pearson as Justice of the Tenth Judicial Circuit's Criminal Division in 1984. He retired from the bench fifteen years later, in 1999.

Pearson was among the founders of the Miles Law School and chaired its board. He also served on the boards of Tuskegee University, Miles College and Alabama Goodwill Industries. He was appointed legal adviser to the Birmingham City Council. He was also active in service to Thirgood Memorial CME Church, the Birmingham Bar Association and Magic City Bar Association.

The Magic City Bar Association gave Pearson their "Scroll Award" and 'Civil Rights Achievement Award" in 1997. In 1999 the Birmingham Metropolitan Chapter of the SCLC presented him with their "Keepers of the Dream Award". Pearson was added to Birmingham's Gallery of Distinguished Citizens by the Birmingham City Council in 2008. The Council, which he had served as a legal advisor, bestowed the special honor of having him represent four years (2006-2009) of the hall. He was inducted to the Alabama Lawyers Hall of Fame in 2014.

Pearson and his wife, Juliet knew each other since childhood. They married in 1956 and had two daughters, J. Richet and Julene. Pearson died in 2014 and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery.


  • Bryant, Joseph D. (October 23, 2014) "J. Richmond Pearson, former judge, legislator and Birmingham fixture, dies." The Birmingham News
  • "Judge J. Richmond Pearson" obituary (October 25, 2014) The Birmingham News