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Judge Hosea T. Lockard, 91, passes

  • Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell
Judge Hosea T. Lockard, 91, passes

Criminal Court Judge Hosea T. Lockard died Monday (Dec. 12) of natural causes, say family members. He was 91.

 Hosea T. Lockard

Born in the South during the early 1900’s, Hosea T. Lockard’s life reflected the challenges of the time. Albert and Lucille Lockard of Ripley, Tenn., were typical parents who desired the very best for their children. Theirs would be a continuous struggle to make education a part of their children’s legacy.

Farming, livestock, domestic work, manual labor – the segregated town offered little in the way of education and opportunity for advancement. Ripley was also a product of its time.  But there were good schools for African-American children just 50 miles southwest of Ripley – in Memphis.

A young Hosea excelled in his early studies, graduated high school, and applied for admission at Memphis’ “teaching college for blacks,” LeMoyne College (now The LeMoyne-Owen College).

Only he doesn’t want to teach. Hosea wants to be an attorney.

A stint with the U.S. Army would delay his career aspirations in the early 1940’s. Lockard returned to school with veteran status after discharge, completed his college education, and applied to law school at Memphis State University. Like his contemporaries, Benjamin L. Hooks and Russell Sugarmon, no degree of merit, achievement, or test scores would allow “black students” to attend. Memphis State opted to pay for their education somewhere else “to remain all-white and avoid law suits.”

Lockard never forgot the rejection. He obtained his law degree in St. Louis. According to Lockard, the temptation to stay in St. Louis and build a lucrative practice was “never an option.”

Conditions were much better for a black man five hours up the river, he would say. But Lockard had a score to settle in Memphis.

Recalling his roots, Lockard told a newspaper that he remembered driving his Pontiac down Highway 51 on Christmas Eve in 1950 right after he got out of law school. He was 31 and ready to work and take on anything he needed to.

Violent race riots and lynchings kept a stranglehold of oppression on African Americans in the 1950s and ’60s, but significant victories were being made on the legal front.

The late Dr. Vasco Smith, civil rights activist, longtime Shelby County Commissioner and husband of former NAACP Memphis Branch Executive Secretary Maxine Smith, once described Judge Lockard as “pretty much the whole show” and the man who laid the foundation for much of the early movement.

As in towns and cities throughout the Jim Crow South, organized boycotts and sit-ins forced white citizens in Memphis to comply with court-ordered desegregation on buses, railways, public buildings,  restaurants, and at long last, the public education system.

In addition to building a thriving law practice, Judge Lockard became the first African-American member of a Tennessee governor’s cabinet. He served as administrative assistant to Gov. Buford Ellington from 1967 to 1971. Lockard also advised President Lyndon B. Johnson on civil rights issues and matters pertaining to race relations.

Judge Lockard served on the Criminal Court from 1975 to 1994 and remained active in the legal community until physical ailments and a stroke slowed him down.

In a news interview three years ago, Judge Lockard expressed the desire for young African Americans to “not take their rights and privileges for granted” and to view what others went through with a sense of reflection and appreciation.

A funeral service is scheduled for Friday at Metropolitan Baptist Church at 11 a.m. R. S. Lewis and Sons have charge. Interment is in West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery Memphis.

Judge Lockard leaves his wife, Ida Walker Lockard, one sister, and three brothers.

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