JeffCo Commission Honors Pioneering Black Judges

The Jefferson County Commission on Feb. 23 issued proclamations honoring retired 10th Circuit Court Judges Houston Brown and Helen Shores Lee. Brown was the first black presiding judge in the circuit and Lee was the first black woman to serve in the civil division. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw)

February 23, 2017 – Lifelong friends and former neighbors in Birmingham’s “Dynamite Hill” community were honored by the Jefferson County Commission on Thursday after their retirement as judges of the 10th Circuit Court of Jefferson County.

Judge Helen Shores Lee, the first black woman to serve in the civil division of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, and Judge Houston Brown, the first black presiding judge in the circuit, were honored for their service to the community with a proclamation presented by District 2 Commissioner Sandra Little Brown.

“Both of these individuals have served Jefferson County well for many years,” Commissioner Brown said.

Gov. Don Siegelman appointed Houston Brown to a circuit judgeship in 2000. He was elected and served for three terms, retiring in 2015. Lee, the daughter of civil rights attorney Arthur Shores, was appointed to the 10th Judicial Court of Alabama by Siegelman in January 2004. She retired last month.

“She has truly lived up to her father’s legacy,” Commissioner Brown said before presenting the proclamation to Lee.

Lee said it was a great honor to be recognized by the commission. She said she already misses coming to the Jefferson County Courthouse each day.

“Sometimes, my car heads here automatically,” she said.

But Lee said her retirement doesn’t mean she won’t be active in the community.

“I’m going out to Holy Family (Cristo Rey) three days a week to do some small group counseling, so I will keep busy,” she said.

Lee and Brown were neighbors in Birmingham’s Smithfield neighborhood, called “Dynamite Hill” because of the bombings that took place there during the 1950s and 1960s.

During the civil rights movement, Lee’s father fought to integrate the University of Alabama and Birmingham schools, and the family’s home was bombed twice in 1963.

The second time the Shores’ home was attacked, Brown was home from Talladega College and rushed to help Lee’s injured mother get out of the house.

Brown said the proclamation meant a lot to him.

“I want to thank each and every one of you because, for the duration of my service to the citizens of Jefferson County, you have been cooperative and friendly and that doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “And who has benefited? The citizens. That’s why I want to thank you publicly.”

District 4 Commissioner Joe Knight said Brown and Lee will be missed at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

“I can’t think of two judges who have been more fair to both sides during their careers,” Knight said.

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said it is always the commission’s privilege to honor outstanding public servants.

“And these are two of the best. God bless you both,” Stephens said.

In other matters, the commission unanimously approved several items discussed in its work session Feb. 21, including:

  • Resolutions authorizing $105,400 in contracts for Cooper Green Mercy Hospital
  • A resolution for demolition and clean-up of the site at Mulga School for $32,000
  • A resolution authorizing an amendment to the West Highlands Water Line Project to extend the project and add fire hydrants

Read more Jefferson County Commission coverage:

JeffCo Commissioners Discuss Cooper Green Contracts, Water Line Project, Other Issues to Come up in Thursday’s Meeting.

Jefferson County Commission Approves United Way Funding Despite Concerns.