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Trailblazer: Judge W. Otis Higgs

DSC07255-200Services are pending for Shelby County Criminal Court Judge W. Otis Higgs, who died Friday after working earlier in the day before going home ill. He was 75.

Judge Higgs was rushed to a hospital by ambulance following a collapse at his home in East Memphis.

History will note Mr. Higgs as the first African American to serve as sheriff in Shelby County.

Trailblazer, public servant, role model are among the images that are being recalled about Mr. Higgs, who became sheriff for 82 days in 1990 after the suicide of then-Sheriff Jack Owens.

On three occasions, Mr. Higgs sought to become mayor of Memphis, coming up short in each instance. From 1970 to 1975, he served as Division 4 Criminal Court judge. In 1998, he was elected criminal court judge.

In Memphis in the early '90s, a runoff provision was a feature of citywide races. That provision eventually was junked, with Mr. Higgs playing a key role as attorney. That maneuver is credited with having paved the way for Dr. Willie W. Herenton becoming the first African American elected mayor of Memphis.

An ordained minister, Mr. leaves behind his wife, Diane; two children, Christopher Higgs and Stephanie Higgs; two sisters, Dora Smith and Betty Hughes, and two brothers, Tony James and William James.

The New Tri-State Defender will salute Judge Higgs in this week's weekly edition.

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