The teachings, preachings, lessons and words of wisdom from great American leaders are too often forgotten after they pass away, leaving generations unaware of the sacrifices that were made to provide many of today’s opportunities.
That is why the family of the late Judge W. Otis Higgs Jr. is honoring his legacy with the establishment of The Judge W. Otis Higgs, Jr. Endowment Scholarship at The LeMoyne-Owen College (LOC).
Any full time student attending LOC, where Higgs graduated in 1959, will have a shot at the scholarship. His nephew, Lennard James, said the family wanted the award to be easy to attain, with simple qualifications and an essay component.
“Sometimes it is hard for our students to get scholarships because the requirements are so high,” said James, a business consultant with ENZO Ent. “My uncle believed that education should be accessible to all students, especially African Americans.”
James recalled his uncle as a father figure and much more than just another male figure in the family. Raised in a single-parent home, Higgs was the driving force behind James’ educational fervor and achievement.
“I was unaware of the magnitude of my uncle’s achievements when I was a child,” James said. “Whenever you were around him, he always had a story to tell and encouragement to give.”
Higgs was an advocate for those who could not speak for themselves. A civil rights leader in his own right, Higgs participated and had been arrested in the sanitation strike in Memphis of 1968.
A friend of many, including Bishop Desmond Tutu, President Barack Obama and Mayor A C Wharton Jr., Higgs was the lawyer in the 1991 lawsuit against the runoff provision in elections in Shelby County. The outcome of that legal action is credited with paving the way for the historic election of Dr. Willie W. Herenton as the first African American elected mayor of Memphis.
Higgs’ passion for educational excellence was evident throughout his growth. While his peers were entering the 9th grade at Melrose High School, the late judge ventured to Morehouse College as a freshman. He roomed with his soon-to-be frat brother, Edgar Love III, the grandson of one of the founding members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
The Higgs family is well underway with raising $1 million for the endowment scholarship. Through pledges and donations, the interest from the endowment will keep the scholarship alive and well funded for the potential awardees. James says this is just the start of many opportunities his family plans to establish and innovate in honor of his uncle, including a redevelopment project within the Orange Mound Beltline.
“My uncle was passionate about giving back to his community,” James said. “We believe in making Memphis better and he would want to see the city improve.”
The endowment scholarship is open to all donations in the name of Judge W. Otis Higgs Jr. through The LeMoyne-Owen College.
(Follow Kirstin Cheers @K_Cheers901.)