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The Army Lawyer


A Brief History of African Americans in the JAG Corps



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Army Judge Advocates at a National Bar Association meeting, circa 1983.

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While African Americans have fought in every major American conflict except the Mexican-American War, widespread racial prejudice in U.S. society meant that African Americans served in segregated units in the Army until the Korean War.1 Given this history, it comes as no surprise that opportunities for African Americans to serve as officers in The Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps were very limited in the past. That said, African Americans have proudly worn the crossed-pen-and-sword insignia since World War I, and have rendered outstanding service to this nation as judge advocates. What follows is a brief history of the service of a few of these African American members of our Corps.2

Early Judge Advocates

Major Adam E. Patterson and Captain Austin T. Walden

The first African American judge advocates were Major (MAJ) Adam E. Patterson and Captain (CPT) Austin T. Walden. Patterson was the senior of the two officers and also more experienced, as he had practiced law in Oklahoma and Illinois for more than fifteen years before being appointed the Division Judge Advocate, 92d Division, American Expeditionary Force (AEF), by General John J. Pershing on 5 October 1918. But, Walden was an outstanding officer and lawyer as well. He served as Patterson’s assistant in the 92d Division.

Born at Walthall, Mississippi, on 23 December 1876, Adam E. Patterson went to high school in Kansas City, Kansas, and Pueblo, Colorado. After graduating in 1897, he attended the University of Kansas and earned his LL.B. in 1900.

After being admitted to the Illinois bar, 24-year-old Patterson began practicing law. He also was active in Democratic Party politics, and was “conspicuous” in supporting Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 elections.3 He subsequently was elected president of the National Colored Democratic League and, in 1916, “managed the national campaign for [the] Democratic Party among colored voters.”4 He also had an active civil and criminal law practice and took on a number of high-profile cases. On one occasion, Patterson worked alongside the famous lawyer Clarence Darrow5 in defending Oscar S. De Priest, an African American Republican and Chicago alderman who was being prosecuted for graft; De Priest was acquitted.6

In 1917, after America’s entry into World War I, Patterson joined the Officers Training Camp at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. He spent ten months as an infantry captain and was an instructor in the 4th Officers Training Camp, Camp Dodge, Iowa. Then, on 5 October 1918, Patterson was promoted to major and appointed Division Judge Advocate, 92d Division.

This all-black division, which had been created by General Pershing in the AEF in 1917, had four infantry battalions, three field artillery battalions, and three machine gun battalions. It also had an engineer regiment, an engineer train, a signal corps and a trench mortar battery.7 While most officers were African American, they could not outrank white officers, which meant that African American officers generally were unable to attain a rank higher than lieutenant. This meant that Patterson was truly unique—one of only a handful of African American majors in the Army and the first African American lawyer to wear the crossed-pen-and-sword insignia on his collar.

At the time of his appointment as Division Judge Advocate, the 92d Division was already in existence. Consequently, Patterson sailed to France, joined the unit, and then remained in France until at least February 1919. As for what he did as the senior lawyer in the division, Patterson wrote in 1925 that he “personally handled all offenses committed by the soldiers from A.W.O.L. to murder.”8 Additionally, he provided legal advice to commanders and their staffs, and almost certainly was available if Soldiers in the 92d Division needed legal assistance.9

Assisting Patterson with his legal duties was CPT Austin T. “Thomas” Walden, the Assistant Judge Advocate. Born at Fort Valley, Georgia, in 1885, Walden received his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1911 and practiced law in Macon, Georgia, prior to being commissioned as a captain on 15 November 1918 and ordered to duty as the Assistant Judge Advocate, 92d Division.

Walden returned to Georgia after World War I and became a prominent member of the African American community in the Atlanta area. He also was active in politics. He was a Republican until 1940, when he switched his allegiance to the Democratic Party and founded the Atlanta Negro Voters League. Walden pushed for increases in African American voter participation and also fought against segregation in Atlanta public schools in a series of lawsuits. When appointed to a judgeship on the Atlanta Municipal Court in 1964, he became the first African American judge in Georgia since Reconstruction. That same year, he also was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, which meant that Walden was the first African American member of any Georgia Democratic delegation to a national Democratic convention. Walden died in 1965.10

There apparently were no African American lawyers in the Corps between the world wars, but as the Army was small (between 1922 and 1935, the Army’s strength did not exceed 150,000) and racially segregated, this was not surprising in the era of Jim Crow. In any event, The Judge Advocate General’s Department (as the Corps was then known) also was quite small; even as late as 1938, the entire department consisted of ninety active duty judge advocates.11

Rufus Winfield Johnson

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent dramatic expansion of the Army (and Army Air Forces) from 1.6 million in December 1941 to eight million by the end of 1945, it was once again possible for African American lawyers to serve in the armed forces. Notable among African American attorneys who served was Rufus Winfield Johnson. He served as a butler in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s White House in the 1930s. Johnson graduated from law school and passed the bar examination in the District of Columbia in 1942, but he did not formally join the JAG Corps until the late 1950s. But that did not prevent him from serving as a defense counsel at general and special courts-martial in both World War II and the Korean War.12

Born on a farm in Montgomery County, Maryland, on 1 May 1911, Johnson was the seventh son of a seventh son. His mother died when Johnson was four years old. He was raised by an aunt and uncle in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. According to an obituary published in 2007, Johnson first faced racial discrimination when he was a Boy Scout: he needed a swimming badge to make Eagle Scout, but could not earn that badge because African Americans were prohibited from using the local whites-only swimming pool.13

After finishing high school in 1928, Johnson attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1934. He subsequently completed law school at Howard in 1939 and then went to work at the White House. Although he was relatively short at five feet, six inches tall, Johnson was exceptionally athletic and qualified as a lifeguard while participating in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program in college. That explains why he was asked to watch over President Franklin D. Roosevelt as he exercised his polio-afflicted legs in the White House pool. Later, Johnson served as the White House butler.

Eleanor Roosevelt took a liking to Johnson. When she learned that he was studying for the bar exam at the end of his 12-hour workday at the White House, she arranged for Johnson to serve her tea in the afternoons. Mrs. Roosevelt then instructed Johnson that he was to use these two hours to study. Her kindness meant that Johnson was able to take the District of Columbia bar exam in October 1941.14

The following month, Johnson was ordered to active duty. Having been commissioned as a Reserve infantry officer in 1934 (through ROTC at Howard), now-First Lieutenant Johnson reported to Fort Dix, New Jersey. After a short assignment at that location—and promotion—Johnson reported to the all-black 92d Infantry Division. When that unit sailed for Italy in 1944, CPT Johnson sailed with it.

A member of the 3d Battalion, 371st Infantry Regiment, CPT Johnson excelled as an infantry officer and took command of Company I in early 1945. According to a questionnaire he completed in 1997, Johnson remembered telling newly arrived Soldiers:

I am Capt. Johnson, your new company commander. My job is getting the enemy killed and you home in one piece. I can get these two things done only if you follow my orders promptly, without hesitation, or question, and use everything you were taught to do during your training.15

Johnson saw hard combat in the Rome-Arno River, North Apennine, and Po Valley campaigns. While his duties as an infantry officer took the majority of his time in Italy, Johnson did serve as counsel at a number of courts-martial held in Italy. He “personally defended 11 cases involving capital crimes including 5 murders and three rapes.”16

Johnson was discharged from the Army in February 1946. He was excited to be back on American soil, but this homecoming was bittersweet:

Released from active duty in Virginia; refused service at lunch counter in every bus station on way to D.C.; had to ride in the back of the bus; upon arrival in D.C., I tried to buy a milk shake at the lunch counter in my uniform as a captain; was told, ‘Sorry, but we don’t serve colored.’ That was in the Greyhound bus station.17

After a short association with another Washington, D.C., lawyer, Johnson opened his own office. His specialty was criminal law, and he “handled every type of case individually from minor police infractions . . . including manslaughter, rape and robbery.”18 He also was “associate counsel” on several murder cases.19

In 1949, Johnson moved to San Bernardino, California, took and passed the bar exam, and opened a private law practice. A year later—in October 1950—he was recalled to active duty as part of a general mobilization of Reservists during the Korean War. Captain Johnson was assigned briefly to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he was a battalion executive officer and summary court officer. Although still an infantry officer, his legal background soon came to the attention of his superiors and resulted in Johnson also being detailed to serve as a trial and defense counsel at both general and special courts-martial. He also worked as an “Assistant Legal Assistance Officer.”20

After CPT Johnson was assigned to the Far East Command and deployed to Korea in September 1951, he was appointed as an Assistant Staff Judge Advocate at Headquarters, 2d Logistical Command. In this duty position, Johnson reviewed general court-martial records, examined boards and reports, and conducted staff visits to units.21 He also served as a defense counsel at special courts-martial held in Korea. Johnson was successful in this defense work—he obtained a number of acquittals for his clients—and consequently requested a transfer to the JAG Corps. But his request was denied because the Infantry Branch wanted to retain him as a combat unit commander.22

Despite the Army’s decision to keep crossed rifles on CPT Johnson’s collar, his superiors permitted him to continue working as a lawyer: in his last assignment before leaving active duty in April 1953, Johnson served as “Assistant Staff Judge Advocate and Assistant Legal Assistance Officer” for Headquarters, III Corps and Fort MacArthur, located in Los Angeles, California. He also was the Chief of the Military Justice Branch. His rater, Colonel (COL) Doane F. Kiechel, then serving as III Corps Staff Judge Advocate (SJA), wrote the following on Johnson’s Officer Efficiency Report:

One of the finest officers and gentlemen of my acquaintance. Possesses unimpeachable character and integrity, high intelligence and a broad background of military-legal training and experience. Has a fine sense of ethical values. Outstanding in loyalty and devotion, with a particular aptitude for working calmly and efficiently under stress.23

His senior rater, COL Norman B. Edwards, wrote: “An outstanding officer. Well liked, competent, efficient, courteous and hard working. I concur fully with the comment of the rating officer.”24

After leaving active duty, CPT Johnson remained in the Army Reserve and, during his yearly two weeks of “USAR active duty for training,” he served as an instructor for the “Advanced JAGC Course” at the Presidio of San Francisco. Then-MAJ Johnson was finally able to transfer to the JAG Corps—on 20 February 1959—becoming one of the few African American judge advocates in the Army.25 After he completed the “USAR School Associate Judge Advocate Advanced Officer Course” in 1961, MAJ Johnson received “equivalent credit” for the Judge Advocate Officer Advanced Course.26 He served another ten years in the Army Reserve before retiring as a lieutenant colonel (LTC) in 1971.

During these years, Johnson made legal history. In April 1962, a group of Navajos met in the California desert and performed “a religious ceremony which included the use of peyote.”27 Police officers, who had watched part of the ceremony, arrested these Native Americans for illegally possessing the substance, which was outlawed because of its hallucinogenic qualities. The Navajos were later convicted in state court, and they appealed to the California Supreme Court—with Johnson representing them on appeal.

Johnson argued that the possession of peyote by his client, Jack Woody, and the other Navajos, should be lawful because the peyote was being used for bona fide religious reasons, and consequently was protected by the First Amendment. The California Supreme Court agreed with Johnson, ruling that any state interest in proscribing the use of peyote was insufficient to overcome the right to religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. On 24 August 1964, the court, sitting en banc and by a vote of six to one, announced that it was reversing Woody’s criminal conviction. People v. Woody continues to be cited in legal cases involving Native American religious freedom and the name “Rufus W. Johnson, Anaheim, for defendants and appellants” will forever be associated with this decision.28

Johnson closed his law practice in 1978 and moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas. In 1995, he moved to Mason, Texas, to live with his step-daughter. Lieutenant Colonel Johnson died on 1 July 2007 at the age of ninety-six. In accordance with his wishes, he was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

African American Judge Advocates from the 1950s to 1990s

After World War II, a handful of African American attorneys joined the Corps and stayed for a career.

Joseph Bailey

After serving in a variety of increasingly important positions, Joseph Bailey finished his career as a full colonel and senior judge on the Army Court of Military Review.

Talmadge L. Bartelle

Another notable African American jurist was Talmadge L. Bartelle, a career Army lawyer who retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1971 and then joined General Mills in Minnesota as senior associate counsel.29 During the Reagan administration, Bartelle also served on the Board of Directors of the Equal Employment Advisory Council.30

With Jim Crow firmly in place in South Carolina in the late 1940s and 1950s, Bartelle’s path to the Corps was not an easy one. He could not attend the University of South Carolina’s all-white law school, but after South Carolina was forced to open a law school for African American students at South Carolina State College in 1947, he graduated with an LL.B. in 1952. He then embarked on a successful career as an Army lawyer.31

John Clay Smith Jr. and Togo D. West

In the 1960s and 1970s, while African Americans struggled for civil rights and racial justice in America, the JAG Corps began focusing on recruiting and retaining African American judge advocates. Among those who joined the Corps were John Clay Smith Jr. and Togo D. West. Both attorneys graduated from the Judge Advocate Officer Basic Course in the late 1960s.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in April 1942, John Clay Smith Jr. attended Creighton University, where he participated in the ROTC program and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Adjutant General’s Corps after graduating in 1964. He then entered Howard University’s law school, where he was class president and graduated in 1967.

After serving four years of active duty as a judge advocate, Smith left active duty in 1973. The following year, he joined the Federal Communications Commission, and later served as associate general counsel. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter named him to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). He made a name for himself supporting guidelines that protected underrepresented populations in the workplace. Dr. Smith (in addition to his law degree, he had a doctorate from George Washington University) was particularly concerned about sexual harassment in the workplace, which he insisted was “not a figment of the imagination,” but a “real problem.”32

After leaving the EEOC, Smith joined Howard University’s law faculty and served as law school dean from 1986 to 1988. He worked tirelessly to enhance Howard’s reputation in the legal community and brought in much-needed financial support for the law school. Smith also wrote a book about early African American lawyers titled Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944. Dr. Smith retired from Howard in 2004. He died in Washington, D.C., on 15 February 2018. He was 75 years old.33

Another Howard University alum, Togo Dennis West Jr., was born in 1942. He graduated from Howard University in 1965. After receiving his law degree from that same institution in 1968, West clerked for a federal judge in New York before joining the Corps in 1969. He did not, however, spend any time in the field. Rather, then-CPT West spent his entire tour of duty in the Honors Program in the Department of the Army Office of the General Counsel.34

When he finished his active duty obligation in 1973, West entered the civilian world. He returned to government service under President Jimmy Carter, when he was the top lawyer in the Department of the Navy and the Defense Department.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton chose West to be the Secretary of the Army. It was a turbulent period in Army history, as the Army was reducing from eighteen to ten active divisions, reorganizing the Army Reserve, and implementing the Clinton administration’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.35

Secretary West received much praise for his work as the top Army official and this no doubt played a part in his selection to be the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 1998. His tenure at the VA, however, was controversial and West resigned in 2000.36

In 2007, following a series of highly critical articles published in the Washington Post, Mr. West returned to government service as part of an investigation into mismanagement at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. West died at age 75 on 8 March 2018, while on a cruise in the Caribbean.37

While Clay Smith and Togo West did not stay in the Corps beyond their first tours of duty, four African American lawyers of this era who did make a career in our Corps were Ned E. Felder, Kenneth D. Gray, William P. Greene Jr., and Robert C. Handcox.

Ned. E. Felder

Born in 1937, Ned E. Felder received both his undergraduate and law degrees from South Carolina State College. Felder initially served as an officer in the Finance Corps before transferring to the JAG Corps in 1963. Then-CPT Felder served at the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington, and deployed with that division to Vietnam. He subsequently had an additional tour in Vietnam at II Field Force from 1966 to 1968, and his work as an Army lawyer in this unit was featured in an American Bar Association (ABA) Journal article published in 1968.38

From 1969 to 1973, Felder served in Europe with VII Corps and also was the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate (DSJA), Berlin Brigade. He qualified as a military judge in 1973 and, except for a three-year tour as the SJA at Fort Meade, Maryland, from 1981 to 1984, COL Felder spent the remainder of his career in the judiciary. His last assignment before retiring in 1988 was as a senior judge on the Army Court of Military Review.39

Kenneth D. Gray

Born in West Virginia in 1944, Kenneth D. “Ken” Gray graduated from West Virginia State College before earning a law degree at West Virginia University in 1969. Having already been commissioned in the Army through ROTC, Gray transferred to the JAG Corps and, after a year at Fort Ord, California, deployed to Vietnam, where he served at U.S. Army Support Command, Da Nang, Vietnam, until 1971. Like all Army lawyers serving in Southeast Asia during this period, much of then-CPT Gray’s work involved prosecuting accused Soldiers at courts-martial. But, he also successfully defended a Soldier charged with attempting to murder his company commander by “fragging” him by placing a grenade under the “hooch” where the officer lived.40

In 1972, Gray was back in the United States and received an important assignment that would affect the future of African Americans in the Corps: he was tasked with implementing and coordinating the newly-created Minority Lawyer Recruiting Program. Gray’s mission was to spearhead recruiting efforts to bring more African American and more female lawyers into a Corps that was predominately white and male. These recruiting efforts included a special focus on law schools with substantial minority enrollments and a print advertising campaign depicting the role of African American and female judge advocates as counsel or judges.41 The newly established summer intern program also aggressively recruited first- and second-year African American law students to fill the one-hundred available slots. Finally, the Corps made certain that African American line officers already on active duty knew about the Excess Leave Program, under which selected officers went into an extended leave status without pay and attended law school at their personal expense and then, after graduating and passing a bar examination, transferred to the Corps.42

MG Kenneth Gray

Before being promoted to brigadier general in April 1991, Gray served in a variety of assignments, including: Instructor, Criminal Law Division, The Judge Advocate General’s School, U.S. Army (TJAGSA); SJA, 2d Armored Division (he was the first African American judge advocate to serve as an SJA at a numbered Army division); and SJA, III Corps (he was the first African American SJA at a corps). Major General Gray completed his career as The Assistant Judge Advocate General (today’s Deputy Judge Advocate General) from 1993 to 1997.43

William P. Greene Jr.

Born in Bluefield, West Virginia, William P. “Bill” Greene Jr. graduated from West Virginia State College in 1965. Having completed ROTC as a Distinguished Military Graduate, Greene was commissioned as an Armor officer in the Regular Army. He never served in that branch, however, as he was selected for the Excess Leave Program and, went to law school at Howard University. After passing the bar in 1968, he transferred to the JAG Corps.44

Bill Greene served in a variety of locations until retiring as a colonel in 1993, including Hawaii, Germany, and Korea. His assignments included: Department Chair of the Criminal Law Division at TJAGSA (he was the first African American judge advocate to head a teaching department at the school); and DSJA, 3d Infantry Division. Colonel Greene served three times as an SJA: 2d Infantry Division (he was the second African American SJA at a numbered division, with then-LTC Ken Gray being the first), U.S. Military Academy, and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

In 1993, then-COL Greene was appointed as a U.S. immigration judge by the U.S. Attorney General. He held that position until 1997, when the president appointed him as a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims for a term of fifteen years. In 2005, Judge Greene assumed the responsibilities of Chief Judge of the Court. Although he officially retired from the court almost ten years ago, Bill Greene retains senior judge status and serves in a recall capacity.

The JAG Corps honored Bill Greene in 1997 when the Secretary of the Army designated him as the Honorary Colonel of the Regiment. He was also recognized as a Distinguished Member of the Regiment in 2000.45

Robert Clark Handcox

Robert Clark “Bob” Handcox had a distinguished career as an officer that began when he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1963. Commissioned in the Infantry, Handcox completed flight school at Fort Rucker and then served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. After two years in Washington, D.C., he entered the Excess Leave Program to attend George Washington University’s law school, from which he graduated in 1973. After transferring to the JAG Corps, COL Handcox served in a variety of assignments, including SJA, 21st Support Command, Kaiserslautern, from 1983 to 1986. He finished his career on the faculty at the U.S. Military Academy, from which he retired in 1988. Colonel Handcox made history as the first African American judge advocate selected to attend a Senior Service School; he attended the National War College at Fort McNair from 1982 to 1983.46

While the number of African American judge advocates in the late 1970s and early 1980s was relatively small, the 1990s saw a significant increase in both male and female African American judge advocates. Many deserve mention, but here are five luminaries in alphabetical order: Robert Burrell, Calvin L. Lewis, Musetta “Tia” Johnson, Levator Norsworthy, and Frances Rice.

Robert Burrell

Robert Burrell graduated from Hampton-Sydney College in 1978 and, after finishing his legal studies at the College of William and Mary three years later, he entered the JAG Corps. His initial assignment was to the 2d Armored Division, Fort Hood, Texas, where he served as a legal assistance attorney, administrative law attorney, and trial counsel. After a brief assignment to the Defense Appellate Division, then-CPT Burrell joined the JAG Corps Recruiting Office as a recruiting officer. After completing the 37th Graduate Course in 1989, he was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, but left Hawaii almost immediately to join the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, U.S. Central Command, as part of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. After this deployment to Southwest Asia, Burrell held a series of increasingly important assignments, including: DSJA, 101st Airborne Division; SJA, 2d Infantry Division; and SJA, U.S. Army Field Artillery Center and Fort Sill. Burrell also had three tours of duty in Charlottesville, two in the Criminal Law Division and a final assignment as Dean, TJAGSA. Prior to retiring, COL Burrell was the Special Assistant to The Judge Advocate General for Business Transformation.

Calvin Lionel Lewis

Calvin Lionel “Cal” Lewis earned his B.A. at Norfolk State University and his J.D. at the University of Virginia. He then served as a judge advocate from 1978 to 2003, when he retired as a colonel. During his career, COL Lewis served in positions of increasing responsibility, including: Instructor, Criminal Law Division, TJAGSA; Officer in Charge, Augsburg Legal Center, Germany; Chief of Justice, VII Corps, Germany (including a deployment to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm); DSJA, Fort Bliss, Texas; Command Judge Advocate, Army Human Resources Command, Virginia; and SJA, 21st Theater Support Command, Germany. After qualifying as a military trial judge, COL Lewis served as the Chief Military Judge, Far East Circuit, Korea, from 2000 to 2001, before beginning his final tour of duty as the Deputy Commandant and Director of Academics (today’s Dean), TJAGSA.

After retiring in 2003, Lewis taught immigration and criminal law as an Associate Professor of Law, Texas Tech University School of Law. He also taught trial advocacy and coached law student moot court teams. Colonel Lewis was honored four times as Professor of the Year—once by the Black Law Students Association, twice by the Hispanic Law Students Association, and once by a vote of the entire law student body at Texas Tech School of Law.

Today, COL Lewis works in the Department of Justice, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, as an Affirmative Employment Program Manager. In this position, he assists U.S. Attorney’s offices nationwide with Equal Employment Opportunity and diversity-related training, and with attorney and non-attorney recruitment.47

Savella Jackson

In 1974, Savella Jackson made history as the first African American female to be commissioned in the Corps. That same year, the total number of female judge advocates also increased from 21 to 45. Today, there are 507 female attorneys as of the publication of this article.

Musetta Tia Johnson

In 2002, Musetta Tia Johnson made history as the first African American female in the Corps to be promoted to the rank of colonel.48 A little more than ten years earlier, when she completed the 39th Graduate Class, she had achieved another “first” as the first African American female to earn an LL.M. at TJAGSA.

Born in 1959, M. Tia Johnson obtained her undergraduate education at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) before completing a law degree at Temple University and entering the JAG Corps in 1984. During her career as a judge advocate, COL Johnson also earned an LL.M. from TJAGSA, an LL.M. from the University of Virginia, and a Masters of Strategic Studies from the Army War College.

In her nearly thirty years of outstanding service as an Army lawyer (she retired from active duty in 2013), COL Johnson specialized in international and national security law, and served in a variety of overseas locations, including Bosnia, Cuba, Italy, and Korea. She was the top Army lawyer in Korea from 2008 to 2010. In her final assignment in the JAG Corps, Johnson was the Senior Military Assistant to the Department of Defense General Counsel, Mr. Jeh Johnson.49

In retirement, COL Johnson first served as the Senior Advisor to the Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and then as the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In this latter position, she was the Department’s principal liaison with Congress, where she worked closely with authorization, appropriation, and oversight committees in both the House and Senate.50 She currently has a position as a Visiting Professor of Law, and Director, National Security Law LL.M. Program at Georgetown University.51

In addition to her many military awards, COL Johnson was a joint recipient of the ABA’s Hodson Award for Outstanding Public Service52 in 1995, and she was named the ABA’s Outstanding Military Service Career Judge Advocate in 2005.

COL (Ret.) Levator Norsworthy Jr.

Levator Norsworthy Jr.

Levator “Vate” Norsworthy Jr. entered the JAG Corps in 1973, after completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Dayton and his legal education at the University of Cincinnati. After assignments at Fort Belvoir and at Office of The Judge Advocate General’s (OTJAG) Litigation Division, Norsworthy completed the 28th Graduate Class in 1980. He subsequently developed an expertise in contract and fiscal law, and headed TJAGSA’s Contract Law Division (1988-1990) before becoming a senior trial attorney at OTJAG’s Contract Appeals Division (1990-91). He then served as Command Counsel, U.S. Army Contracting Command-Europe (1991-1995) and completed his military career as the Chief Counsel for the Washington Office of the U.S. Army Communications and Electronics Command, from which he retired in 1997.

While practicing contract and fiscal law were the hallmarks of his career in the JAG Corps, then-LTC Norsworthy did find time to serve as the SJA, 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum from 1985 to 1987. He was the third African American to be the SJA of a numbered Army division (after COLs Ken Gray and Bill Greene).

After retiring as a colonel, Norsworthy began a distinguished career as a civilian attorney, and in 1998 was appointed to the Senior Executive Service and assumed duties as Deputy General Counsel (Acquisition) in the Army’s Office of General Counsel. This means that he provided advice and counsel to all Army Secretariat officials, to include federal procurement law, major weapons systems acquisition, military construction, research and development, international cooperative programs, and contingency contracting. He was the first African American lawyer to serve in this capacity.

In addition to his many military awards, Norsworthy has twice been given a Presidential Rank Award—Distinguished Executive (2010, 2016).

Frances P. Rice

Born in April 1944, Frances P. Rice enlisted in the Army in 1964. After completing Woman’s Army Corps (WAC) Officer Candidate School at Fort McClellan in 1967, and being commissioned in the Army Reserve, then-Lieutenant Rice commanded a WAC company in Pirmasens, Germany, from 1968 to 1970. She was then assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where she served as an adjutant and assistant Inspector General in the early 1970s. She also completed a degree in business administration at Drury College. Her next move was to the Presidio of San Francisco, where she was the Chief, Race Relations Division. While in California, she was accepted into the Excess Leave Program and earned her J.D. at the Hastings College of Law in 1977.

After joining the Minnesota bar, now-MAJ Rice reported to the 87th Basic Class and, after graduating in October 1978, reported for her first duty assignment as an Army lawyer at Fort Meade, Maryland. When she was promoted to lieutenant colonel a few years later, Rice made history as the first African American female judge advocate to achieve that rank. She retired from active duty in 1984.

In retirement, LTC Rice has been active in national politics. In 2005, she founded the National Black Republican Association (NBRA). This organization’s mission “is to be a resource for the black community on Republican ideals and promote the traditional values of the black community which are the core values of the Republican Party.”53 Rice is currently the chairman of the NBRA.

African American Judge Advocates in the New Century

As the second decade of the 21st century comes to an end, the number of African American lawyers in Army uniform has increased dramatically. Here are just five more short biographical sketches of distinguished men and women of color, in alphabetical order: Kirsten Brunson, Ural D. Glanville, Njeri Hanes, Robert Rigsby, and Stephanie Sanderson.

Kirsten Brunson

Colonel Kirsten Brunson was the first African American female in the JAG Corps to qualify and sit as a military trial judge. Born in 1966, she graduated from the University of Maryland in 1987 and, having been cross-enrolled in Howard University’s ROTC program, was commissioned into the Military Police Corps. But, Brunson received an educational delay and obtained her law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1991.

Colonel Brunson joined the Corps and served in a variety of assignments, including: V Corps and XVIII Airborne Corps; Defense Appellate Division, USALSA; 101st Airborne Division; and U.S. Special Operations Command. After completing the Military Judge Course in 2008, she served as a trial judge at Fort Hood, Texas, before retiring from active duty.

In an unusual coincidence in 2011, Brunson was promoted from LTC to COL on the same day that her husband, Xavier T. Brunson, was promoted from LTC to COL. Xavier Brunson ultimately “passed” his JAG Corps spouse in rank; an infantry officer; he is now a major general and slated to take command of the 7th Infantry Division in the near future.54

Ural D. Glanville

Brigadier General Ural D. Glanville began his Army career in 1982, when he enrolled in ROTC at the University of Georgia. Commissioned in the Army Reserve when he graduated, Glanville took an educational delay to obtain his law degree and then transferred to the JAG Corps in 1990. He then served three years in Germany as a trial and defense counsel before leaving active duty in 1993.

Returning to Georgia, he entered the civilian practice of law until 1996, when he began judicial service as a magistrate judge in Fulton County. Eight years later, he became a superior court judge in the same county. Judge Glanville oversees felony criminal trials as well as civilian proceedings involving family law.

In the Army Reserve, Glanville held positions of increasing responsibility in the JAG Corps, including serving as the SJA, 335th Signal Command. In this capacity, he deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After his promotion to brigadier general, he served as Assistant Judge Advocate General for Military Law and Operations Individual Mobilization Augmentee and as the Commanding General, U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command. His last assignment prior to retiring was as the General Officer Support for the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve.

Njeri Hanes

Lieutenant Colonel Njeri “Jeri” Hanes, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and Harvard Law School, most recently served as the SJA, Fort Meade, Maryland. In the fall of 2019, now-LTC Hanes became a student at the Eisenhower School, National Defense University. Then-MAJ Hanes made history in May 2010 when she graduated first in the 58th Graduate Class—the first time an African American had achieved the highest academic standing in the ten-month LL.M. program at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School (TJAGLCS).

Robert R. Rigsby

In 2009, Robert R. Rigsby made history as the first sitting judge from the District of Columbia to deploy as a military trial judge to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait. Born in California, COL Rigsby received his education at San Jose State University and the Hastings College of Law. He entered our Corps in 1987, and served on active duty in Kentucky and Tennessee until 1992, when he transitioned to the Army Reserve.

In March 2002, President George W. Bush nominated him to be an associate judge of the District of Columbia Superior Court, and he was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate in July.55

Stephanie D. Sanderson

Directly commissioned in our Corps in 1998, Stephanie Denise Sanderson obtained both her undergraduate and legal education from the University of Alabama. She also has an LL.M. from TJAGSA and a Masters of Strategic Studies from the Army War College.

Now-COL Sanderson has served in numerous positions, including: Legal Assistance Attorney and Trial Counsel, Fort Benning; Appellate Attorney, Defense Appellate Division, USALSA, and Commissioner, U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals; Chief of Military Justice, Legal Services Activity—Korea, Eighth U.S. Army; Brigade Judge Advocate, 2d Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, and Baghdad, Iraq; DSJA, U.S. Military Academy; Assistant Executive Officer to TJAG; DSJA and Acting Rear-SJA, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson; and Chief, Fiscal Law, U.S. European Command, Germany. She made history in 2017 when she became the first African American Chief of Staff at TJAGLCS.56


As the second decade of the 21st century draws to a close, the number of African American judge advocates has increased significantly in the Army, with African American male and female lawyers now constituting seven percent of the active component JAG Corps. (By comparison, five percent of the American Bar Association membership is African American.)

As the JAG Corps enters the third decade of this century, there is no doubt that African American attorneys will continue to make history in our Corps and in the delivery of legal services to the Army.TAL


Mr. Borch is the Regimental Historian, Archivist, and Professor of Legal History and Leadership.


1. For more on African Americans in the U.S. armed forces, see Bernard C. Nalty, Strength for the Fight (1986); see also Gail L. Buckley, American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm (2001).

2. Special thanks to Colonels (Ret.) William P. Greene Jr., Calvin L. Lewis, Levator Norsworthy Jr., and Richard D. Rosen for their help in preparing this article. Special thanks also goes to Colonel Tania Martin for her comments and Major Earl M. Wilson for suggesting that it was time for a “Lore of the Corps” on this important topic.

3. The Crisis 227 (Sept. 1913).

4. Adam E. Patterson, Questionnaire for the Judge Advocates Record of the War, at National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Records of the Office of The Judge Advocate General [hereinafter Patterson Questionnaire].

5. Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) is perhaps the most famous trial lawyer in U.S. history and was known for taking unpopular cases. He gained national prominence when defending John T. Scopes at the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” in Tennessee in 1925. For more on Darrow, see Irving Stone, Clarence Darrow for the Defense: A Biography (1941).

6. Oscar Stanton De Priest (1871-1951) was the first African American to be elected to Congress from outside the southern states. He served as a Republican in the House of Representatives from 1929 to 1935; he was the only African American in Congress during these years. De Priest, Oscar Stanton, Hist., Art & Archives: United St. House Representatives, http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/12155?ret=True#biography (last visited Aug. 8, 2019).

7. Steven D. Smith & James A. Zeidler, A Historic Context for the African-American Military Experience 156 (1998).

8. 92d Division Officer Nails Bullard’s Lie, Chicago Defender 3 (June 13, 1925).

9. After returning to Chicago from France in 1919, Patterson “became a major figure in the city’s Democratic Party.” Fred L. Borch, Lore of the Corps 97-98 (2018). In the 1920s and 1930s, Patterson served as assistant “corporation counsel for the City of Chicago,” a prestigious and high-paying position. Id. In this job, Patterson defended the city in civil suits for money damages. He continued to use his military rank during this time, and is routinely identified in books and newspaper stories as “Major Adam Patterson.” Id.

10. A. T. Walden, Questionnaire for the Judge Advocates Record of the War, at National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Records of the Office of The Judge Advocate General; A. T. Walden (1885-1965), New Ga. Encyclopedia, http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/t-walden-1885-1965 (last visited Aug. 8, 2019); A.T. Walden (1885-1965), BlackPast, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/walden-t-1885-1965/ (last visited Aug. 8, 2019).

11. Judge Advocate General’s Corps, U.S. Army, The Army Lawyer: A History of The Judge Advocate General’s Corps, 1775-1975, at 151, 156 (1975).

12. Patricia Sullivan, Lawyer and Lt. Col. Rufus W. Johnson, Wash. Post B6 (July 10, 2007).

13. Id.

14. Johnson learned in 1942 that he had passed the bar examination, but since he was no longer in Washington, D.C., he was not able to personally appear in court and be admitted to practice until he was released from active duty in 1946.

15. Rufus W. Johnson, Questionnaire, at U.S. Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania 6 (Aug. 20, 1977).

16. U.S. Dep’t of Army, DA Form 1056, Legal Experience Statement, Rufus W. Johnson, Block 16 (May 24, 1951).

17. Patterson Questionnaire, supra note 4, at 14.

18. Smith & Zeidler, supra note 7.

19. Id.

20. U.S. Dep’t of Army, DA Form 67-2, Officer Efficiency Report, Rufus W. Johnson, 7 March 1951 to 18 July 1951 (July 24, 1951). Note that the Articles of War were still in effect during this period, which explains why Captain Johnson was permitted to serve as counsel at general courts-martial.

21.U.S. Dep’t of Army, DA Form 67-2, Officer Efficiency Report, Rufus W. Johnson, 18 September 1951 to 8 January 1952 (Feb. 7, 1952).

22. Id.

23. U.S. Dep’t of Army, DA Form 67-2, Officer Efficiency Report, Rufus W. Johnson, 1 March 1953 to 19 April 1953 (on file with author).

24. Id.

25. Johnson was promoted to major on 1 October 1953. U.S. Dep’t of Army, DA Form 66, Officer Qualification Record, Rufus W. Johnson, Block 12 (on file with author).

26. Certificate of Completion, TJAGSA, Rufus W. Johnson (Aug. 1, 1961).

27. People v. Jack Woody, 61 Cal. 2d 716, 394 P. 2d 813 (1964).

28. Id.

29. Bartelle retired on 30 June 1971. Personnel Actions: Retirements, Army Law. at 24 (Aug. 1971).

30. Equal Employment Advisory Counsel, Annual Report 1982, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/sites/default/files/digitallibrary/smof/policydev/barr/box-005/40-035-21969590-005-023-2018.pdf (last visited Aug. 25, 2019)

31.As a result of a civil lawsuit brought by an African American student who was denied admission to the University of South Carolina’s law school because of his skin color, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina gave the state government a choice: admit African Americans to the University of South Carolina or open a law school for African American students. Unwilling to desegregate, South Carolina opened a law school at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg in 1947. The underfunded and provisionally accredited school closed in 1966, having graduated a total of fifty-one students. But, despite these low numbers, graduates like Talmadge L. Bartelle did well. Ernest A. Finney Jr. became the first African American chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court and Matthew J. Perry Jr. was the first African American federal judge in South Carolina history. Alfred D. Moore III, Thorn in the Side of Segregation: The Short Life, Long Odds, and Legacy of the Law School at South Carolina State College (Doctoral dissertation, University of South Carolina), https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/3373 (last visited Aug. 25, 2019).

32. Adam Bernstein, EEOC Leader Defended Protections Against Workplace Sexual Harassment, Wash. Post B7 (Feb. 21, 2018).

33. Id.

34. Harrison Smith, Investigated Army Sex Abuse and Fort Hood Shootings, Led Veterans Affairs, Wash. Post B4 (Mar. 12, 2018).

35. Id.

36. Id.

37. Id.

38. Irvin M. Kent, Jon N. Kulish, Ned E. Felder, & Herbert Green, A Lawyer’s Day in Vietnam, 54 A.B.A. J. 1177 (1968), reprinted in Army Law. Sept.-Oct. 2018, at 37.

39. Frederic L. Borch III , Judge Advocates in Vietnam: Army Lawyers in Southeast Asia 1959-1975, at 141 (2003).

40. Id. at 89. During the Vietnam War, some Soldiers killed or tried to kill their own officers and noncommissioned officers by using a fragmentation grenade. Drugs, alcohol, racism, indiscipline, and poor leadership were all factors in these murders or attempted murders, called “fraggings” in the slang of the day. For an excellent study of fragging in Vietnam, see George Lepre, Fragging: Why U.S. Soldiers Assaulted Their Officers in Vietnam (2011).

41. Judge Advocate General’s Corps, supra note 11.

42. Prior to the establishment of a Funded Legal Education Program in 1974, the Army created by regulation an “Excess Leave Program” to help the Corps obtain and retain high quality officers. More than a few judge advocates who came into the Corps in the 1960s did so through the Excess Leave Program; in 1965, there were 144 officers in the program. Id. at 238.

43. General Officer Biography—Kenneth Darnell Gray (on file with author).

44. E-mail from William Greene to Fred L. Borch III (July 12, 2019, 10:25 AM) (on file with author).

45. Jeffrey C. Good, Judicial Profile: Chief Judge William P. Greene, Jr. U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Federal Bar Association, http://www.fedbar.org/PDFs/Past-Judicial-Profiles/Military-Courts_1/Greene-Hon-William-P.aspx (last visited Aug. 12, 2019).

46. Association of Graduates, Register of Graduates and Former Cadets 3-299 (2008).

47. Curriculum Vitae, Calvin Lionel Lewis (on file with author).

48. Other African American female judge advocates who have been promoted to colonel since Tia Johnson’s era include COLs Kirsten Brunson, Jacqueline L. Emanuel, Danyele M. Jordan, Stephanie Stephens, Stephanie Sanderson, and Tyesha L. Smith.

49. U.S. Dept’ of Army, DA Form 4037, Officer Record Brief, Musetta Tia Johnson (27 June 2013).

50. M. Tia Johnson, U.S. Dep’t Homeland Security, https://www.dhs.gov/archive/person/m-tia-johnson (last visited Aug. 12, 2019).

51. M. Tia Johnson, Georgetown Law, https://www.law.georgetown.edu/faculty/m-tia-johnson/ (last visited Aug. 12, 2019).

52. This prestigious award is named after Major General Kenneth J. Hodson, who served as TJAG from 1967 to 1971. It recognizes sustained, outstanding performance or a specific and extraordinary service by a government or public sector law office. Hodson Award, A.B.A., https://www.americanbar.org/groups/government_public/awards/hodson_award/ (last visited Aug. 12, 2019). Eligible nominees include all government (including military) or public sector law offices (e.g., legal aid bureaus, public defender offices and other legal organizations funded by the Legal Services Corporation) at the federal, state, and local levels. To be eligible, nominees must receive funding from a government entity. Departments or units within offices are also eligible. Id.

53. Black Republican Blog, www.blackrepublican.blogspot.com (last visited Aug. 14, 2019).

54. Press Release, U.S. Department of Defense, General Officer Assignments (Apr. 16, 2019), https://dod.defense.gov/News/News-Releases/News-Release-View/Article/1815168/general-officer-assignments/.

55. The Honorable Robert R. Rigsby, Associate Judge, District of Columbia Superior Court, District of Columbia Courts, https://www.dccourts.gov/sites/default/files/2018-09/DCSC_Bio_Rigsby.pdf (last visited Aug. 12, 2019).

56. Biography, COL Stephanie D. Sanderson (on file with author).