Chicago judge George Leighton dead at 105

Chicago judge George Leighton died of pneumonia at the age of 105 on Wednesday.

Leighton was hospitalized at a Massachusetts veterans hospital for pneumonia, according to the Chicago Tribune.

He was the first African American to sit on the Illinois Appellate Court.

Leighton also ruled from the county and federal benches. He retired from the federal branch in 1987 when he was 74.

The criminal courthouse at 26th Street and California Avenue is named after him. He went to Harvard Law School and was a World War II veteran.

Law partner Langdon Neal said Leighton will go down as one of the nation’s greatest civil rights lawyers.

Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans released the following statement Wednesday evening:

“I join the legal community in mourning the passing of our friend and my former law professor, George N. Leighton. He served the public in many ways as a Circuit Judge, an Illinois Appellate Justice and a U.S. District Court Judge.

“Judge Leighton came to Chicago in 1946 at a time when an African-American man could neither rent an office downtown nor hail a taxi in the Loop. He made a name for himself as an attorney who fought for voting rights, integrated schools, fair housing and equal access to jury service.

“His fierce advocacy even led to a grand jury indictment against him, in which he was accused of conspiring to incite a riot after an African-American family tried to move into a white neighborhood. Thurgood Marshall represented Mr. Leighton, and the charges were dismissed.

“This is the courage we celebrated when we renamed our criminal courthouse as the George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building in 2012. That day, he said, ‘I practiced law. That’s all I did.’ Well, we all know it was so much more. And we will always remember the man who made it his mission to make sure that the law was equally applied to all.”