SAVANNAH - Retired Superior Court Judge Eugene H. Gadsden, whose leadership and legal expertise anchored Savannah's civil rights movement, died Wednesday morning at his home.
Mr. Gadsden, a Savannah native, was 88. The son of a prominent African-American family, he went to law school in North Carolina, then returned home to apply what he'd learned. He was the first black member of both the Savannah Bar Association and Chamber of Commerce.
In 1979, at age 67, Mr. Gadsden was appointed to the Chatham County Superior Court - another first. He subsequently ran for re-election and held the post until retiring in 1992.
Those who knew Mr. Gadsden best say he will be remembered for his gentle spirit, compassion, integrity and sense of fairness.
"He was a very loving person," said Ida J. Gadsden, his wife of 60 years. "He was always there for us."
His dedication extended deep into the community.
"He was a fine judge and a gentleman of the old school. We will certainly miss him," said Senior Superior Court Judge Frank Cheatham Jr., who served on the bench with Mr. Gadsden.
As Chatham County's first black Superior Court judge, he was well known among local attorneys for his sense of fairness.
"(He) had compassion for those that stood before him," said Commissioner Martin Jackel, an attorney. "He had a vast storehouse of patience with lawyers."
Long before he was a judge, Mr. Gadsden was instrumental in the local civil rights movement.
He defended protesters arrested during lunch counter sit-ins and filed lawsuits against police brutality. He influenced the city's political landscape as co-chairman of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's political action council in the 1960s and '70s.
"He was a pioneer," said W.W. Law, a longtime president of the local NAACP and lifelong civil rights activist. "He brought character, integrity and dependability to NAACP efforts to break down segregation and discrimination."
Mr. Law said Mr. Gadsden's contributions significantly sped up the local fight for integration and helped keep protests from turning violent.
"He brought a local dimension to the black struggle that nobody had brought to the table before," Mr. Law said.
Mr. Gadsden's legal training was one of his greatest weapons.
"There were those that took to the streets, but he took to the courts," said Judge Cheatham. "He pursued the law, and he won."