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Dallas Remembers Civil Rights Attorney And The City's First Black Judge: Louis A. Bedford

Eduard Moldoveanu
/ 181528181
Lincoln Memorial

Louis A. Bedford Jr. was born in Dallas, in the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan was rampant and Texas enforced Jim Crow laws. Four decades later, he became the city’s first black judge, and eventually helped other blacks into city and state politics. 

Back in the day, there were no programs open to black students, so Bedford traveled to New York for law school. But he eventually returned, SMU historian Darwin Payne said.

“He loved the city," Payne said. "He wanted to return to Dallas, and to put all his work into improving the city, especially for African-Americans.”

Payne is author of Quest for Justice: Louis A. Bedford Jr. and the Struggle for Equal Rights in Texas.

“He was one of the attorneys who filed suit after the Brown vs. Topeka Supreme Court decision to desegregate the Dallas school system. That was an important step that he took," Payne said. "He defended a lot of individuals who’d been charged for sit-ins, in Marshall, Texas, when they had huge demonstrations. And he was working on almost every civil rights endeavor in Dallas.”   

During the two years the book took to write, the author says Bedford was humble and generous, with no braggadocio about him.  

“He saw the day when Dallas had numerous black judges, elected politicians, city councilmen, a mayor, county commissioners," Payne said. "And he played a significant role in bringing about these changes.”

Bedford swore in Dallas’ first black district attorney, Craig Watkins, and served as a mentor to state Sen. Royce West. Bedford died Thursday after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 88.

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.