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Details | State of Illinois Office of the Illinois Courts

Celebrating Black History Month with Justice Lampkin


This February, Illinois Courts is recognizing diverse voices in the judiciary to uplift and inspire others in the community. The following features Illinois Appellate Court Justice Bertina E. Lampkin and her thoughts on Black History Month, diversity, and more.

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

College/Law School: Roosevelt University/DePaul University College of Law

District: First

When did you know you wanted to pursue law, and eventually, become a judge?

I knew I wanted to be a lawyer by the time I was 6 or 7 years old. My father, the late attorney Abraham Lampkin, took me to court as a child and I was captivated by what I observed occurring in the courtroom. I knew I wanted to become a judge after I realized the power to change lives judges possessed and how I, as a Black judge, could correct some of the disparate treatment of minorities, the undereducated, and the poor, that I witnessed as a young prosecutor.

For the first time in the state’s history, three African American justices currently sit on the Illinois Supreme Court. What does this mean to you?

All three African American Justices were initially appointed to fill the unexpired terms of three Justices who were retiring. The two female African American Justices were selected by retiring female white Justices. I thought that was a monumental decision on the part of the white Justices to make a statement that African American women belonged on the Court, and they took the opportunity to open the door for them. I believe that their appointment and prayerfully, their election to those positions will be a beacon light of hope to all women lawyers, and especially to black and brown women, that they too can achieve this honorable position.

What do you think about when you hear “Black History Month?”

When I hear “Black History Month,” I think about the enormous contributions African Americans have made to the United States of America since Africans were brought to the United States and enslaved. In spite of the continuing attempts to minimize and in some instances to erase the inhumane treatment they received and continuing attempts to continue the unequal treatment, African Americans have excelled in every field of their endeavors including medicine, the law, physics, the arts and sciences, engineering, politics, etc.

Throughout your life, what role models have you looked up to?

My role models include, first my father attorney Abraham Lampkin, who was born in Mississippi, suffered the indignities of legally not having a birth certificate and being called “boy” when I was a child visiting Mississippi with him, who went on to serve his country bravely in the United States Navy in World War II, and to become a respected member of the Illinois Bar. He taught me that “I was good as everyone and better than most,” that I came from a lineage of great Kings and Queens and that hard work and excellent education were the key to my professional goals. From the age of 6 years old when I first heard him speak, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, was my role model. He loved all mankind; he was fearless and fought for equality for all, no matter the danger to himself; and he was a man of great faith. He has remained the central figure in my life as someone to emulate. In the legal profession I looked up to Justice Thurgood Marshall, Justices George Marovich and Thomas Fitzgerald and Judge John Rogers. Women judges include Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ilana Rovner, Constance Baker Motley and Blanche Manning.

Why do you think it’s important to recognize Black History, not just this month, but every day?

It is imperative to recognize Black History, now more than ever, because of the widespread attempts by some to eliminate the significant contributions Blacks (African Americans) have made to the United States since its inception. The very foundation upon which the United States stands, including its economy was based on the free labor of the enslaved. Further, in spite of systemic racism that continues today, in areas such as education, housing, health care, and glass ceilings in most aspects of professional achievement, Blacks have excelled in every field of endeavor and those achievements should be recognized and celebrated by everyone. All future generations of children of every race should be exposed to these facts. It will help create a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable society for the future.

Is there anything else you’d like to add on this topic?

I am proud of my heritage and the contributions of those who came before me. I thank the Supreme Court for allowing me to express my thoughts.