Richard E. Fields, first Black elected judicial official in the Southeast, dies at 103
“He was the biggest tree in the legal forest in Charleston and we all benefited from his shade.” — James Island, South Carolina Magistrate Frank McCann.
Circuit Judge Richard Fields, who enjoyed a long and successful career in the Charleston legal community, passed away on March 3. He was 103.
Born and raised in Charleston, Fields was the first Black attorney to open his own law firm in Charleston in 1949, Yahoo reports.
A graduate of Avery Institute, West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University) in 1944 and Howard University School of Law in 1947, Fields was inspired to study law after reading the autobiography of NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson.
In South Carolina, Fields was a lawyer, family court judge, and circuit court judge who broke down barriers. He became the first Black municipal court judge in Charleston in 1969. Six years later in 1975, Fields worked as a Family Court judge until 1980 when state legislators elected him to serve as a Circuit Court judge. He retired in 1992.
Fields was a mentor for scores of lawyers in Charleston, both Black and White, and many attorneys in South Carolina reportedly sought his advice, the Post and Courier reports. “At the end of the day … he really always wanted to know that he did the right thing,” said Circuit Court Judge Deadra Jefferson.
He cast a large shadow and had a reputation for fairness. “He was the biggest tree in the legal forest in Charleston and we all benefited from his shade,” said James Island (South Carolina) Magistrate Frank McCann, a former president of the South Carolina Bar Association. “He was outstanding on the bench — the sort of judge a lawyer looks forward to being before even if you were on the losing side.”
Fields’ was also a political activist. In the 1950s, he was instrumental in the formation of a Political Action Committee that organized and educated Black citizens about participating in the political process, including running for office, according to Yahoo.
Over the years, he received numerous honors. In 1980, Fields received the Order of the Palmetto — the state’s highest civilian honor — from Gov. Richard Riley. His portrait hangs in the Charleston County Courthouse. In 2022, Charleston’s municipal courtroom at 180 Lockwood Blvd was dedicated in his honor. And, according to the Post and Courier, the Charleston County street where he opened his office at 65 Spring St. was named “Judge Richard E. Fields Street” on his 100th birthday,
Fields was preceded in death by his wife, Myrtle T. Evans. He is survived by his daughter Mary Diane Fields Reed (Michael) and son Richard E. Fields, Jr., Yahoo reports.
A wake was held on Sunday at the Centenary United Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina followed by a private interment.
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