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The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt

Leo Ellwood Holt, a retired Cook County Circuit Court judge, was born July 2, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois to Laverne Hamilton Holt and Pullman porter Miller Holt. Attending Willard Elementary School and Englewood High School, he dropped out at age sixteen to become a cook on the Santa Fe Railroad. After briefly returning to Englewood High, Holt joined the United States Army in 1945 and earned his diploma. In 1947, Holt enrolled at Wilson Junior College and received his A.A. degree in 1949. After studying accounting and business law at Roosevelt University, Holt entered John Marshall Law School, graduating with his L.L.B. degree in 1959.

In 1960, Holt passed the bar, got married and began private practice with former classmate, Earl Taylor. Working with attorney James Montgomery to defend Al Raby, Dick Gregory and other Chicago open housing activists, Holt’s involvement bolstered the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Reverend Jesse L. Jackson. Holt was elected judge of Circuit Court of Cook County in 1986. In 2003, Holt received the Charles E. Freeman Award from the Illinois Judicial Council.

Holt’s honors include the Richard Westbrook Award from Cook County Bar Association in 1975; the Robert Ming Award from the Cook County Bar Association in 1981; the Operation Push Community Service Award in 1981 and the South Suburban Leadership Council Community Service Award in 1985. Holt is an outspoken advocate of increasing the number of African Americans in the judiciary. Father of two grown daughters, Holt lives in Chicago.

Accession Number

A2005.054

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/21/2005

Last Name

Holt

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Ellwood

Organizations
Schools

Englewood High School

Frances E. Willard Elementary School

John Marshall Law School

Wilson Junior College

Roosevelt University

Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Leo

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

HOL04

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

No

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Lake Tahoe

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

7/2/1927

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Buffalo

Short Description

Civil rights lawyer and state circuit court judge The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt (1927 - ) is a former Cook County Circuit Court Judge, and has served as an attorney for civil rights activists such as Dick Gregory and Al Raby.

Employment

City of Chicago

Private Practice

Circourt Court of Cook County

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his mother's education and occupations

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Leo Holt describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls growing up during the Great Depression

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his childhood household

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his childhood personality and interests

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his elementary school and Chicago's Wabash Avenue YMCA

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt remembers attending Metropolitan Community Church

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his family's conversion to Christian Science

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt remembers attending Frances E. Willard Elementary School

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls his favorite childhood radio programs

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls his childhood activities

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls prominent figures from his youth in Chicago

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes growing up in Chicago's Ida B. Wells Homes

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls dropping out of high school to work

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls passing the GED

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his experiences in the U.S. Army

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls attending Woodrow Wilson Junior College

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his aspirations to be a lawyer

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls the colleges he attended

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes completing his Bachelor of Law degree

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls his early experiences as a lawyer

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes discrimination against African American professionals

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his experiences as a public defender

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes being fired from the Cook County Department of Welfare

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls being indicted on insurance fraud charges

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood recalls fighting charges of insurance fraud and T.R.M. Howard

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls defending gang members as a criminal defense attorney

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his experiences as a criminal defense attorney

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt shares his thoughts on the death penalty

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt shares his thoughts on the Illinois State's Attorney's office

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - The Honorable Leo Holt talks about racism within the court system

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt shares his opinion of Richard M. Daley's tenure as the Cook County state's attorney

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt talks about Illinois attorney generals

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt explains the purpose of criminal defense lawyers

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt talks about the O.J. Simpson murder trial

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes the Rodney King trial and O.J. Simpson's murder trial

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls becoming a judge for the Circuit Court of Cook County

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls representing protesters during the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt shares his judicial philosophy

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt reflects upon the mass incarceration of African American men

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt shares his thoughts on sentencing offenders

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt explains his sentencing for William Lique, Jr.

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his verdict in the Kenyatta White case

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood talks about a person's constitutional right to bail

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt reflects upon racial disparities in sentencing

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes the use of victim impact statements in criminal cases

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes his community involvement

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt talks about his family

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$5

DAStory

7$8

DATitle
The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt recalls representing protesters during the Civil Rights Movement
The Honorable Leo Ellwood Holt shares his judicial philosophy
Transcript
Now, prior to that time, now had you--now you were friends and colleagues with James Montgomery [HistoryMaker James D. Montgomery], but had you been involved in any civil rights cases prior (unclear)?$$Oh, yeah, throughout the '60s [1960s] yeah.$$We didn't mention those but--$$In, sometime in the early part of the '60s [1960s]--I don't remember just exactly when it was, maybe it was during the years of the school marches. A number of people got arrested for sitting in the street, one of whom was my then fifteen year old cousin. And his mother called me up and asked me if, if I would go and see about her son. I had no intention of getting involved in, in, with, with the movement [Civil Rights Movement] at that time. I was very busily trying to prac-, you know, get a practice going. I went to the courthouse, and I witnessed both black and white people being drugged literally, drugged into court. Because they refused to walk, and so they dragged them, dragged them in before the judge. The judge would set exorbitant bonds with the view towards they're not getting out without regard to whether or not there was a probability that they would flee. Most of them would probably would not have made bail anyway because they wanted to stay in jail as a form of protest. And it just so offended me that I started to, to get involved. And at that time, Al Raby [Albert Raby] was the coordinator of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations [Chicago, Illinois], and he got arrested. They had a number of arrests, and no one was devoting any attention to his case particularly. And I recognized that the system was really going to try to come down hard on him to make an example out of him, and so I offered to represent him (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Can--$$And he accepted, and I became, for lack of a better term, the movement's lawyer. And throughout that period, every time there was a march or a demonstration, I was there.$$Can (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) I went on every, every open housing march, I march around the mayor's [Mayor Richard J. Daley] house. I marched with [HistoryMaker] Dick Gregory. The only thing I didn't do was go to jail because I was more valuable to the movement out of jail than in. I tried their cases. I almost lost my, my, my practice--well, such as it was, and my family 'cause I was staying out all the time, and not devoting attention to my practice because I was involved in representing these hundreds and hundreds of people who had gotten arrested.$$Okay. Now what--$$Through that, I met Dr. King [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] when, when the King movement came to Chicago. And Jesse [HistoryMaker Reverend Jesse L. Jackson] and I stayed involved with them until after Dr. King was assassinated.$$That's SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] and Operation Breadbasket [Atlanta, Georgia] and yeah.$$(Nods head).$$Now what year was it that you defended Al Raby? When did that--$$I--King was living on the West Side [Chicago, Illinois], I believe, in '65 [1965]?$$I think you're right.$$So, I started representing Raby, I guess, maybe in '63 [1963] maybe, '64 [1964].$$Now we fast forward again to being a judge [on the Circuit Court of Cook County, Cook County, Illinois], I guess. That's what--anything else about that period you want--these are the things that we haven't discussed?$$Well, the only thing out of the, that period obviously brought about massive changes in our society. And I've become convinced that the only way that we're going to change the conditions of today, which are uniquely different from that period, is to do the same, to engage in the same kind of conduct. I don't think the system hears you until you rock the boat. And I don't think that the political process, that is electing people to political office is going to rock the boat. It's the grassroots people who have to make the system know that they are in pain. And the only way to do that is to hit the street.$What is your judicial philosophy? What would you consider your judicial philosophy to be?$$I think that fairness--I, you know, if I had the one synonym, it would be fairness--fairness. I think that the utilization of the criminal justice system, solely for the purposes of punishment, negates the essence of the system. It is, it is not a system that is designed, or should be designed solely for punishment. There's a lot of help that can be administered to people who are in pain. If you believe as I do that crime is a sociological phenomena, if you tell me what the social conditions are of a community, I'll tell you how much crime there is in that community. And I can also tell you, with a high degree of accuracy, what kind of crime is in that community. So, if you're going to abolish or diminish the level of crime, you're going to have to change the social conditions. And as long as you're not, then you're just putting a band-aid on this social cancer. People think in terms of the criminal justice system as being proliferated by violent criminals. And that's not true. The overwhelming majority, the overwhelming majority of people in our prison systems are not violent criminals. If we were to empty out those non-violent criminals, you'd have a very tiny prison population. But so long as the Corrections Corporation of America [CoreCivic, Nashville, Tennessee] is on the stock exchange, you'll never going to empty out your prisons.