As part of the University of Virginia’s Community MLK Celebration, John Charles Thomas ’75 (Col ’72), the youngest and first Black justice to serve on the Supreme Court of Virginia, will speak at the Law School about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and how his struggles reverberate today.
The talk, sponsored by the school’s Center for the Study of Race and Law and the Black Law Students Association, will be held Jan. 26 at 4 p.m. in Caplin Pavilion.
Following Thomas’ remarks, Dean Risa Goluboff will interview him about his own experiences as a trailblazer in Virginia.
Thomas recently wrote a memoir on his life, “The Poetic Justice,” published by the University of Virginia Press. The book traces Thomas’ upbringing in the Jim Crow South, challenges to starting his professional life as a lawyer, his service on the bench, and his international travels and encounters with world leaders. As the title alludes, Thomas is also a poet, and he has recited his work at Carnegie Hall.
“My life has not been easy. The fact that I survived physically is a minor miracle and the fact that I am not emotionally broken is astounding,” said Thomas, who survived a brain tumor, in an interview with his publisher. “I hope the reader will see that with just a little hope, there is a chance we can survive the body blows of poverty, family violence, racism and the like.”
Thomas was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 1983 at age 32 and served until he resigned for health reasons in 1989. He then worked as a senior partner with Hunton Andrews Kurth, focusing on appellate practice, general litigation and alternative dispute resolution. Thomas, who has also taught classes at UVA Law, retired in 2021.
He served on the College of William & Mary board of visitors from 2006 to 2017. Since 2004, Thomas has been a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 1995, he received the NAACP’s Lifetime Image Award.
Additionally, Goluboff will present the Gregory H. Swanson Award, named in honor of the first Black student at UVA and at the Law School. The award recognizes students who demonstrate courage, perseverance and a commitment to justice within the community.
The event is open to the public. Parking will be available in D2 and D3 lots.
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.