Leo Branton, Jr., legendary civil rights attorney, died Friday in Los Angeles. Mr. Branton, whose career lasted over six decades and whose client list included many celebrities, was best known for his defense of Angela Davis in 1972.
Ms. Davis, a former professor at UCLA, had been charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy. In his closing arguments before the all-white jury, Mr. Branton successfully defended Ms. Davis against the charges, in part, by pointing out that Ms. Davis’ flight and time as a fugitive did not show a “consciousness of guilt” but was reflective of what it was to be black in America at that time. (Source: Los Angeles Sentinel)
Mr. Branton was well aware of the challenges of being black in America. He was born in 1922 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas where discrimination was both rampant and brutal. He earned his degree from Tennessee State University before serving in the Army for three years during WWII. He went to Law School at Northwestern University and was their only African American graduate in 1948. He moved to California in 1949 where he went into private practice and quickly began taking cases against the LAPD.
?”‘I was the only lawyer in Los Angeles filing cases against the LAPD for ? malfeasance. I probably filed more cases against the LAPD than the rest of the black bar,’ he told The Times in an unpublished 2011 interview.” (Source: Los Angeles Times)
Mr. Branton worked with Civil Liberties attorney, Ben Margolis, to defend 14 members of the communist party who were accused of conspiring against the U. S. Government. They were convicted in 1952 but the attorneys successfully argued for a reversal of the decision before the U. S. Supreme Court in 1957. He was the first black lawyer to serve as a delegate to the California State Bar Convention and to serve on the State Bar Review Board. He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the ACLU in 2009.
His name is not the first one that comes to mind for most of us, even those of us who champion Civil Rights, but he was certainly a pioneer. He was an incredibly talented litigator who “has been referred to as a ‘Black Perry Mason,’ but that is a misnomer. Branton is the real deal; he is the standard. Perry Mason is fiction. It is Perry Mason who should be referred to as the ‘White Leo Branton.'”?Yussuf Simmonds, Los Angeles Sentinel.