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The Honorable James R. Spencer

Judge James R. Spencer was born on March 25, 1949 in Florence, South Carolina. He was among the first in his family to attend college, enrolling at Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia in 1967. He graduated magna cum laude in 1971, and went on to study at Harvard Law School, where he obtained his J.D. degree in 1974. The following year, Spencer graduated in the top five percent of his class at the Judge Advocate General’s School at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. Spencer later studied at the Howard University School of Divinity, graduating in 1985.

Spencer’s interest in law began in 1967, while working under civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman at her public interest law firm, the Washington Research Project. Upon graduating from Harvard Law School, he worked as a staff attorney with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. He went on to serve as a prosecutor, and then as chief of justice, with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps from 1975 to 1978. From there, Spencer became an assistant attorney general, serving the U.S. Attorney’s Office of District of Columbia. He was the first African American attorney assigned to the office’s Major Crimes Division. In 1983, he moved to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Virginia, where he remained until 1986 when he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first African American district court judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. From 1987 to 1996, Spencer also served as an adjunct professor of law at the University of Virginia. In 2004, Spencer was appointed as chief justice of the district, serving until 2011. In 2014, Spencer assumed the rank of senior judge. He presided over a number of high-profile cases over the course of his career, including the 2006 patent infringement suit between Research In Motion, the maker of BlackBerry devices, and the patent holding company NTP, Inc.; and the 2014 corruption trial of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Spencer was a member of numerous professional, civic and fraternal organizations, including the State Bar of Georgia, the District of Columbia Bar, the Virginia State Bar, the National Bar Association, the Old Dominion Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association, Big Brothers of America, the NAACP, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Mu, Sigma Pi Phi, and Phi Beta Kappa. Spencer also earned a black belt and was a member of the U.S. Karate Association. He served as associate pastor of the 3rd Union Baptist Church in King William, Virginia.

Judge James R. Spencer was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 8, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.132

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/8/2016

Last Name

Spencer

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

R.

Schools

Clark Atlanta University

Harvard Law School

Howard University School of Divinity

Carver Elementary Magnet School

Wilson High School

Wilson Junior High School

First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

Florence

HM ID

SPE64

Favorite Season

Fall

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Nassau

Favorite Quote

I Was Young But Now I'm Old But I Have Never Seen The Righteous Forsaken.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Virginia

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/25/1949

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Richmond

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Rib Eye With Grits

Short Description

Judge James R. Spencer (1949 - ) worked for civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman at the Washington Research Project, and was the first African American federal district court judge in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Employment

Washington Research Project

Atlanta Legal Aid Society

U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps

District of Columbia

Eastern District of Virginia

University of Virginia

Favorite Color

Blue

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable James R. Spencer's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable James R. Spencer lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable James R. Spencer describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable James R. Spencer describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable James R. Spencer talks about his father's military service

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable James R. Spencer describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable James R. Spencer lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable James R. Spencer describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers his early neighborhood in Florence, South Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable James R. Spencer describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers segregation in Florence, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers an early case in his judicial career

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls working as a caddy at Florence Country Club in Florence, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers a racist encounter at a movie theater

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable James R. Spencer talks about his education at Carver Elementary School in Florence, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers a discouraging teacher

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls reading Jet Magazine as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers an early glimpse into the legal profession

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable James R. Spencer talks about the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers attending Center Baptist Church in Florence, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls the school system in Florence, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - The Honorable James R. Spencer talks about his activities at Wilson High School in Florence, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers playing music with his brother and cousin

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers the social gatherings of his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls his decision to attend Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable James R. Spencer talks about classism in the South

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls the congregation's support of his educational endeavors

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers his father's death

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls his summer jobs

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers his early influences at Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls learning about African American history at Wilson High School

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers meeting Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - The Honorable James R. Spencer talks about his summer internship with the Washington Research Project in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers his professors at Clark College

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers his mentors at Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls his decision to attend Harvard Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable James R. Spencer describes his first year at Harvard Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers his classmates and professors at Harvard Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls his work experiences at Harvard Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable James R. Spencer talks about passing the bar exam

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable James R. Spencer describes his experiences in Judge Advocate General's Corps

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable James R. Spencer talks about his family

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls being hired as an assistant United States attorney

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable James R. Spencer describes his experiences as assistant district attorney

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls attending Howard University School of Divinity

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers his appointment as a federal judge

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable James R. Spencer describes the work of a federal judge

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls meeting Oliver W. Hill

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable James R. Spencer reflects upon his role as a federal judge

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers the patent case, NTP, Inc. v. Research in Motion, Ltd., pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers the patent case, NTP, Inc. v. Research in Motion, Ltd., pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls his efforts to improve diversity in government positions in Richmond, Virginia

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - The Honorable James R. Spencer recalls becoming chief judge

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable James R. Spencer remembers the Kemba Smith case

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable James R. Spencer talks about discriminatory drug laws

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable James R. Spencer talks about his involvement with police brutality cases

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable James R. Spencer describes his role as senior judge

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable James R. Spencer shares his judicial philosophy

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable James R. Spencer reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable James R. Spencer talks about his children's accomplishments

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - The Honorable James R. Spencer describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - The Honorable James R. Spencer describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - The Honorable James R. Spencer narrates his photographs