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Georgia Tech's Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage: Justice Robert Benham

Blessed to have been involved in selecting retired justice Robert Benham as winner of this year's Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage; and in organizing the symposium that accompanied the ceremony to deepen the role of judges and justice in contemporary society. The panel, entitled "Progress and Service: Lives in the Law," and expertly moderated by Public Policy professor Roberta Berry, included Georgia Supreme Court Justice Charles Bethel, Georgia Tech’s General Counsel Danette Joslyn-Gaul, former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Harold Melton, and Director of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services Candice Broce.

Judge Benham's achievements (all of these before turning 50!):

  • First African American lawyer to establish a law practice in his hometown of Cartersville, Georgia. 

  • First African American president of the Bartow County Bar Association.

  • First African American judge on the Georgia State Court of Appeals. 

  • First African American citizen to win a statewide election since Reconstruction. 

  • First African American to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

  • First African American to serve as chief justice.

I was privileged to spend about 10 minutes in a convo with Judge Benham ahead of the events. He mentioned to me how he had been told, during his first bid for election, that he should not actually show up in person to campaign in five Georgia counties. Were he to show up, his picture would appear in the newspapers, and he would not be elected. I had no doubt about what he implied here. On a lighter note, he also mentioned his involvement in sports, specifically his participation in forming a pyramid while waterskiing. He said this experience taught him that any organization needed trust and strong performance at all levels to succeed.

Honored and humbled to be part of this event and experience.

Image above: Judge Benham with his family.

Image on the left: GT President Cabrera recognizes Kaye Husbands Fealing, Dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, which is named in honor of Ivan Allen Jr.


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