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Chester Blair

Attorney Chester L. Blair was born in Streetman, Texas on July 2, 1928. Blair left home at an early age to seek greater opportunity in the state of Washington. After falling ill from manual labor, Blair returned to Texas to complete high school. Deciding that he wanted to become a lawyer, he arrived in Chicago in April 1947 with a letter of introduction to the famous lawyer Euclid Taylor.

After working as a busboy and attending Fisk University for one year, Blair was hired by the post office and transferred to Chicago State University. He received his B.Ed. in 1952 and taught for the Chicago Public Schools for seven years. While teaching, he pursued master's level work at Roosevelt University and went on to earn a J.D. in 1959 from the John Marshall Law School, where he excelled in real estate law.

Upon completing his law degree, Blair went into private practice as a partner in Blair & Cole. His practice included criminal defense and personal injury cases. Blair became the first African American president of the Chicago Bar Association.

Throughout his career, Blair had served on numerous advisory committees for the Illinois Supreme Court and the American Bar Association. He was a member and former president of the Cook County Bar Association and a member of both the Illinois State Bar Association and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. He served on the boards of the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education and the Chicago Bar Foundation. He was named a fellow of the American Bar Foundation in 1987. Blair had been a lecturer and professor for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. From 1984 to 1998, he wrote a weekly column for the Chicago Daily Defender.

Blair passed away on March 16, 2015 at the age of 86.

Accession Number

A2003.062

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/2/2003

Last Name

Blair

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

L.

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Fisk University

Chicago State University

John Marshall Law School

First Name

Chester

Birth City, State, Country

Streetman

HM ID

BLA03

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Freeport, Bahamas

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

7/2/1928

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

All Food

Death Date

3/16/2015

Short Description

Trial lawyer Chester Blair (1928 - 2015 ) was the first black head of the Chicago Bar Association.

Employment

Chicago Public Schools

Blair & Cole

Chicago Defender

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Chester Blair's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Chester Blair lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Chester Blair talks about his paternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Chester Blair describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Chester Blair describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Chester Blair describes his father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Chester Blair describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Chester Blair describes his childhood personality

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Chester Blair describes the role of books and newspapers during his youth

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Chester Blair describes his experiences in grade school

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Chester Blair describes how his paternal grandfather influenced him

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Chester Blair talks about the lack of respect whites had for blacks

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Chester Blair describes his experience working for a grocery store butcher

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Chester Blair describes his move from Houston, Texas to Hanford, Washington as a teenager, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Chester Blair describes his move from Houston, Texas to Hanford, Washington as a teenager, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Chester Blair describes his experiences working in Hanford, Washington and Vanport, Oregon

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Chester Blair describes how an illness ended his career as a laborer

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Chester Blair talks about Vanport, Oregon

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Chester Blair talks about his group's singing on KALE radio in Portland, Oregon

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Chester Blair describes moving from Portland, Oregon to Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Chester Blair describes how a racist encounter at a library in Houston, Texas caused him to leave Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Chester Blair describes his search for a job in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Chester Blair describes his search for a job in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Chester Blair describes sleeping in train stations to save money for rent after moving to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Chester Blair describes the financial difficulties he faced after attending Fisk University

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Chester Blair describes his experiences attending Fisk University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Chester Blair describes his experiences serving as a photographer in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Chester Blair remembers the murder of Chicago Alderman Benjamin Lewis

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Chester Blair talks about Walter Shumpert and U.S. Congressman George Collins, who succeeded Alderman Benjamin Lewis after his murder

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Chester Blair describes defending 24th Ward elections officials against "Operation Eagle Eye" in 1968

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Chester Blair describes how the Chicago riots caused by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death destroyed his private practice

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Chester Blair describes an explosion that destroyed his office on South Dearborn Street

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Chester Blair talks about becoming a member of the Chicago Bar Association in 1959

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Chester Blair describes how working with the Chicago Bar Association inspired him to run for president of the organization

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Chester Blair describes being nominated as the first African American president of the Chicago Bar Association, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Chester Blair describes being nominated as the first African American president of the Chicago Bar Association, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Chester Blair describes what helped his nomination as the first African American president of the Chicago Bar Association

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Chester Blair Chester Blair describes his election as the first African American president of the Chicago Bar Association

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Chester Blair talks about establishing the Earl B. Dickerson Award

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Chester Blair talks about the recipients of the Earl B. Dickerson Award

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Chester Blair talks about his role models

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Chester Blair describes his preparation for his court cases, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Chester Blair describes his preparation for his court cases, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Chester Blair describes the role of a defense attorney

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Chester Blair describes how African Americans disproportionately receive jail sentences

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Chester Blair comments on how African Americans repress one another

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Chester Blair shares his hopes and concerns for the black community

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Chester Blair reflects upon his legacy, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Chester Blair reflects upon his legacy, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Chester Blair describes the background of the 1940 "Hansberry v. Lee" case

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Chester Blair describes the 1940 "Hansberry v. Lee" case

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Chester Blair talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Chester Blair narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

7$2

DATitle
Chester Blair describes sleeping in train stations to save money for rent after moving to Chicago, Illinois
Chester Blair describes his preparation for his court cases, pt. 2
Transcript
In the meantime, I had to have someplace to sleep. I went to the bus station and I said I would sleep there because it was opened all night long. I sat down in one of the seats and the fellow came by to see me, and I told him that I had my luggage there and I was waiting for somebody to come bring me some money so I could get it out. So he didn't bother me and I went to sleep and after it got late, nobody came by to say anything to me, but I felt a little rumbling in my pocket. And I looked there was a guy right next to me. I woke up, you know. And I said what are you doing, he said, oh nothing I was just moving around. And I moved to another seat and the same thing happened to me by somebody else. So I said these people are trying to pick my pocket. I don't have any money. So what I did was to go to still a third place and I put my hands in my pockets like this and this is how I slept. Nobody bothered me cause they knew if they pull my arm out it would wake me up. And after I slept there that night, I think I went back to sleep again. I looked to see if there was an opportunity to go to a movie theater or something to sleep in and I saw they had a fifteen cent movie because I still had this two and a half and I had gotten a job at a restaurant, but I hadn't been paid, so I was eating a little food. I took and went into the fifteen cent movie that used to be over on Clark Street and when I got in there, the odor was just so stifling that I couldn't--I couldn't stay in there and I lost my fifteen cents because I just had to get out of there. And there was a thirty-five cent movie, but I didn't want to go to that because that was just spending more money than I wanted to spend for one-night's sleep. So I started walking around and I checked on train stations and I found the Union Station over there and I went into the Union Station. I saw they had a guard in a blue suit, a blue outfit, it wasn't a suit. He wore blue shirt and pants and some kind of a hat, like that and he walked around with a billy club in his hand. And he would go over and if somebody was sleep, he would take a--take the billy club and say get up and get out of here you. You can't sleep in here and cause the people to leave, you know, they'd be guys like me who didn't have any money. So I came up with a plan. I got on the bench and I layed down, had a point fairly close to where he was and when I did that, pulled my coat up over me. I had a little gabardine coat on. And by the way I was wearing blue (unclear) suit when I came here and I had--I wore that suit, man, for a week and a half. But I was always able to go to the bus station and give him a few pennies, he let me get a shirt out of my wardrobe and I'd put on a clear shirt and stick the dirty one back in there. In any event what I did was to pull my coat over my head and sooner than I laid down, I guess I was there three or four minutes, he came up, you can't sleep here, you gotta get outta here. I said, has my train come yet, I'm waiting for my train. He says what train are you on? Well I had gotten one that left a four o'clock in the morning, and I told him. He said oh, all right, you're okay. That meant, this was something like around eleven o'clock. This meant I got five hours of sleep uninterrupted. And I started doing that. And the station was so big, I could move to different parts of the station and they didn't remember me. And I would go at different times a night and I always had my train, and I was able to do that for a week and when I got paid then I went and started to--I rented a room. The room was so small that when I went to the door to go in the room, I had to climb over a half of one of these twin beds to get to where I could stand in the room, cause there was no other way they could put the bed in there without blocking the door, and that's the room I had, nine dollars a week. But--at any rate it was a rather interesting experience that I had.$One of the other things that's very important is the manner in which you prepare your client to testify. If it's a civil case and you've got experts in the case like doctors, or some other expert, he could be an engineer and architect or whatever, sometimes they know their subject very well but they have very little skill at testifying in front of a judge or a jury, and on the basis of that you have to spend enough time with that person so that he will gain some insight on how he's to present the evidence. It's not easy dealing with them because many times they think they know their subject so well and when you start trying to tell them how you want them to present something, they feel that it's an encroachment on their intelligence or training. And as a result of that what you have to do is to be very careful who you select an expert as to whether or not this is the kind of person you could work with. Is it somebody who's going to be so pompous that you can't tell em anything because he knows too much, if it is try to select a different expert. If you get trapped with a guy like that, you're better off being with a judge, because the judge is going to treat his information carefully rather than the manner in which he presents it. The jury won't do that. The jury will eat you up in a situation like that. The lawyer himself has to be careful now about being too pompous and being too flamboyant because many of the jurors don't like that anymore. Sometimes you think that you make a big flair in the courtroom and you gonna win your case and it destroys your case. There are any number of little tips that people can have in terms of handling cases successfully. But the most fundamental of all is the person who is presenting the case and that's the lawyer. He has to feel and believe in what he's doing or she is doing. If he does he has a chance, if you have no belief in it, you're in trouble. And that's the way I go about it.