The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

city

The Honorable William Cousins, Jr.

Like many Chicagoans, William Cousins, Jr., had his roots in the South. Cousins was born in 1927, in Swiftown, Mississippi. His family moved to Memphis, Tennessee and then to Chicago. Cousins graduated from DuSable High School on the city’s South Side in 1945. He received his B. A. degree in political science from the University of Illinois, where he graduated with honors in 1948. Cousins then went on to Harvard Law School, receiving his LL.B. in 1951.

Cousins served his country as an infantry lieutenant in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1953. He continued as an active army reservist for twenty years and retired as a lieutenant colonel. Cousins began practicing law in 1953 as an attorney with the Chicago Title & Trust Company. From 1957 to 1961, he served as a Republican Assistant State’s Attorney. Cousins entered private practice with the law firm of Turner, Cousins, Gavin and Watt. In 1967, Cousins was elected as a “Free Democratic” alderman from Chicago’s Eighth Ward.

As an alderman, Cousins worked outside of Chicago’s powerful political machine and was reelected as an independent until 1976, when he ran for Circuit Court Judge of Cook County and won. Over the next twenty-six years, Cousins presided as a judge on the Illinois Appellate Court and the Cook County Circuit Court. He was also appointed to various positions, including chairman of the Illinois Judicial Conference and as a member of the Special Supreme Court Committee on Capital Cases. While working as a judge, Cousins also served as Chairman of the Illinois Judicial Council, Chairman of the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association and as a Board member of the National Center for State Courts.

Before election to the judiciary, Cousins dedicated his time and talents to an array of organizations and causes, including Chicago Area Planned Parenthood Association and Operation PUSH.

Cousins was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi and Sigma Pi Phi Fraternities, and Trinity United Church of Christ. He was also a member of the halls of fame of the National Bar Association, the Cook County Bar Association, and DuSable High School.

In 2005, Hiroko, Cousins’ wife for fifty-two years, made her transition to eternal life. He had four adult children: Cheryl, Noel, Yul and Gail and four grandchildren.

Cousins passed away on January 20, 2018 at age 90.

Accession Number

A2003.009

Sex

Male

Interview Date

1/16/2003

Last Name

Cousins

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Schools

Greenwood Elementary School

Carter G. Woodson South Elementary School

Du Sable Leadership Academy

University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Harvard Law School

First Name

William

Birth City, State, Country

Swiftown

HM ID

COU01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Italy

Favorite Quote

Be prepared.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

10/6/1927

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Salmon

Death Date

1/20/2018

Short Description

Circuit court judge The Honorable William Cousins, Jr. (1927 - 2018 ) was elected as Circuit Court Judge of Cook County, and presided as a judge on the Illinois Appellate Court. He was also appointed chairman of the Illinois Judicial Conference and as a member of the Special Supreme Court Committee on Capital Cases.

Employment

Chicago Title and Trust Company

States Attorney's Office, Chicago

Turner, Cousins, Gavin and Watt, Chicago

Lafontant, Gibson, Fisher and Cousins, Chicago

City of Chicago

State of Illinois

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:10754,191:11046,196:21649,303:23998,337:24781,349:28174,400:33220,497:33742,505:34438,515:35656,536:37135,556:38701,571:39136,577:42616,620:53678,665:61940,728:62248,733:63403,756:63942,768:64327,774:65020,785:65482,792:65790,799:70641,849:71257,858:71950,869:72412,874:77669,890:78114,896:79805,916:80784,926:81229,932:86035,982:98106,1049:101200,1081:102474,1099:102929,1105:104112,1121:104567,1127:108662,1186:114382,1215:114994,1225:116150,1244:118802,1297:119074,1302:119822,1309:121522,1350:121998,1358:124106,1396:124582,1404:130540,1464:131647,1475:132139,1483:141090,1565:141990,1575:143590,1602:145890,1629:146290,1634:146890,1641:147290,1646:148890,1672:157180,1741:161145,1783:162603,1803:163089,1810:165600,1885:165924,1890:166329,1908:168435,1932:169488,1952:174719,1986:175274,1992:178049,2018:179048,2028:184629,2112:185044,2118:186123,2140:186621,2147:188281,2164:189609,2186:191601,2223:196478,2263:196910,2270:197486,2281:199142,2306:199790,2317:211884,2449:212180,2454:213660,2481:214104,2489:214548,2497:214918,2503:218080,2519:218770,2527:221990,2566:222565,2572:223255,2579:231263,2627:234230,2667:235265,2684:237059,2724:238301,2744:238577,2749:239819,2776:240854,2791:241475,2802:245612,2813:248636,2843:252038,2873:253676,2888:254306,2894:255818,2901:263170,2938:267716,2956:271880,2971:272600,2980:275750,3062:276110,3067:277640,3091:278000,3096:278540,3103:279170,3115:280340,3129:280970,3136:281420,3143:281960,3151:282950,3161:283400,3167:283760,3172:284750,3185:285380,3193:291360,3225:294780,3298:300700,3336:301240,3349:306331,3417:311445,3510:313320,3554:313695,3560:319020,3655:319620,3665:320370,3683:326880,3723:327420,3730:335033,3784$0,0:4516,8:4999,17:5689,28:6793,45:7621,60:7966,66:11847,86:12291,91:14178,105:18285,151:20956,159:21324,168:21692,176:23716,215:24360,220:26016,241:26384,249:41364,411:41708,416:42654,424:43342,434:43772,440:46696,490:49362,541:50738,571:51856,588:52286,594:56186,616:56596,622:57744,639:60778,679:62500,697:65780,727:76365,834:77640,850:78575,863:79255,873:83080,946:88860,997:89260,1004:91980,1050:92700,1060:93500,1076:93820,1085:96380,1141:98380,1176:99180,1187:99580,1193:108900,1253:112500,1297:113580,1311:115470,1338:116100,1346:116550,1352:117546,1361:120078,1418
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of William Cousins interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - William Cousins lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - William Cousins recalls his family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - William Cousins remembers his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - William Cousins remembers his sister's death

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - William Cousins recounts growing up in Memphis

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - William Cousins illustrates growing up under segregation

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - William Cousins recollects his jobs as a youth

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - William Cousins discusses entrepreneurship in the Chicago black community

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - William Cousins recalls his motivation to be successful

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - William Cousins recounts his high school extracurricular activities

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - William Cousins describes the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign in the late 1940s

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - William Cousins remembers influential teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - William Cousins recalls student to teacher relationships at the University of Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - William Cousins remembers Buddy Young

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - William Cousins details his experiences at Harvard Law School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - William Cousins recounts his military service in Korea

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - William Cousins discusses his marriage to a Japanese woman

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - William Cousins recalls his early career with Chicago Title and Trust Company

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - William Cousins details his work for the states attorney's office

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - William Cousins recounts setting up a private law practice

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - William Cousins recollects his early involvement in Chicago politics

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - William Cousins remembers becoming a judge

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - William Cousins lists his contemporaries as a black alderman in Chicago

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - William Cousins recalls being a Republican in the era of the Daley Democratic Party machine

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - William Cousins details why he left the Republican Party

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - William Cousins explains what made him a good judge

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - William Cousins recounts losing his campaign for Supreme Court judgeship

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - William Cousins remembers his successes as a judge

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - William Cousins shares his hopes and concerns for the black community

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - William Cousins discusses his parents' views of his success

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - William Cousins considers his legacy

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

6$5

DATitle
William Cousins recounts growing up in Memphis
William Cousins remembers becoming a judge
Transcript
All right and sir, can you reflect back and give us a sense of what it was like to grow up--growing up in--well in Swiftown [Mississippi] and in Memphis [Tennessee].$$Well, I don't know too much about growing up in Swiftown and I have some--just some fleeting memories that's all. But Memphis I know well.$$All right.$$I knew Memphis from top to bottom in a sense when I was there because I moved around Memphis and went to various places.$$[Simultaneously] Did the family move around?$$Not so much by virtue of moving from house to house. Although we lived in about three different locations as I recall and in one location my parents had a little store and a restaurant, one of the earlier places where we lived. And the last place was a--the third place was a place across the street from a church; it's on South Willard Avenue. But--but I traveled around the city myself as a boy going downtown and to the movies on Beale Street, which was a regular sojourn for me on the weekends to go to the movies early. W. C. Handy Park or the Daisy Theater for that matter. Beale Street then was a place where they said black folks met. They didn't--any blacks to me. And then I had newspaper route I had with a newspaper called the Memphis World. The [Chicago] Defender was in circulation at that time. This maybe--is the mid 30s [1930s] we're talking about this time. And I developed the largest circulation that the Memphis World had in the city. I rode around the city to where maids worked in the houses, you see. I did on my bike. I had a bike and I otherwise traveled. I knew the city well and was acquainted to some extent with what was happening in the city. In those days they had Boss running Memphis--in Memphis. His name was [Edward Hull] Crump, Boss Crump, everything revolved around Boss Crump. The city of Chicago [Illinois] here in Chicago you know, they talk about the [Daley] Machine, Crump. I knew that, you see, that matter. So I attended, you know, grade school there. Three--two different schools and later Greenwood [Elementary School, Memphis, Tennessee] and reached the sixth grade there before my family moved finally to Chicago. One thing I might say about there you know, your neighborhoods were such that blacks and whites lived in a sense in an interstitial situation, blacks on one street and whites on another street. And when you might cross, you know, it wasn't, you know, such as all--it was in some areas, you see? So when I went to school, grade school I passed from my area through white areas to get to the black school that I attended, Greenwood, you see? So--and I recall the circumstances really and can even picture the buildings, you know, we had. Which, of course, they didn't have integration there in their schools but we received a tremendous education in those segregated schools that I--the teachers, some of them I still recall them and how they taught us. And we became acquainted with the Black National Anthem [Lift Every Voice and Sing]. That's one of the songs we sang, you see, at that time. We were familiar with people like Marian Anderson. We were. When I came to Chicago I found less awareness of certain things than I was aware of as a student in Memphis--.$$So--.$$--in grade school.$$So the teachers made a special attempt to make sure that you knew who you were culturally and--.$$I'd say yes.$$Yes.$$Oh yes, oh yes. At the school I was in attendance yes. Right.$$Okay now what was the name of the school?$$Well the last was Greenwood, it's no longer. It's a frame school. It was as things were segregated. If I had remained in Memphis I would have attended Booker T. Washington [High] School 'cause Booker were--which is the school where most black--Negroes was the word then--attended.$In 1976 some new judgeships were, of course, created by the state legislature and ten were judgeships to where people--where the new judges were to be elected from the city of Chicago [Illinois] by votes. Only the city people voted, in the city of Chicago. And I had run for reelection twice in '71 [1971] and '75 [1975] and been elected although they changed the ward dramatically. They took all of Chatham away from me after the first election and gave me--.$$--southeast area.$$--the area east of Stony Island.$$Yeah. They moved--one time they moved me into South Chicago during a court decision. That was a court proceeding there because I had been one of the principal challenges in the city rezoning in 1971. And I said that they had rezoned so that they diluted the black vote and diluted the black strength in wards, so that they could minimize the number of black aldermen. And that's exactly what they had done. And a court had decided that I was partially right, you see. They made a change and gave me South Chicago but then the appellate court looked at that and said, "Well, we're not gonna let that stand. Revert it back to what it was." And it went back. But after election in '76 [1976]--in '75 [1975], I ran for a judicial position in '76 [1976] and the primary--was nominated and took my judicial office as circuit court judge in December of '76 [1976], and have been on the bench since.