The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Judge Sturns talks about segregation, racism challenges while growing up

By James Nwankpah/reporter

Tarrant County District Judge Louis Sturns said racial discrimination was a major part of his upbringing and also shaped the career path he followed to become the first black judge on Texas’ highest criminal court.

Judge Louis Sturns
Judge Louis Sturns

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sturns spoke Sept. 18 on NW Campus about life before and after the act.

“I’ve noticed the way people have acted towards the Ferguson [Mo.] shooting,” Sturns said. “Each person views it from their own ethnicity. Black people point fingers at the police department. Non-blacks want to look at the whole situation and see what made the cop do what he did. But this isn’t a recent phenomenon. We’ve been dealing with it since the start of our nation.”

Sturns also said that even when the Founding Fathers established the United States, some still did not agree on how all people should be treated.

While Thomas Jefferson wrote the words that “all men are created equal,” he was a slave owner who had children with several of the slaves he owned, Sturns said.

Sturns centered on his own past to paint a picture of how different life has become since the 1964 act was passed. Since his birth in 1949, Sturns said he has always called East Texas home, but had few happy times growing up in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, which strengthened segregation in schools.

As a result of the Supreme Court case, the mantra of “separate but equal” spread across the nation, Sturns said. However, the definition of “equal” varied widely.

“All the black children in my town were relegated to a four-room school with no running water, no heat or air, outdoor privies for bathrooms and hand-me-down books that were at least 10 years old on average,” he said.

When the Civil Rights Act outlawed racial segregation in schools and the workplace, schools began integrating, but according to Sturns, problems still existed.

”After the Act of ’64, my cousin and I wanted to take advantage of our newfound rights so we went to go eat at a restaurant,” he recalled. “We took a seat. No service. We asked for service. Still no service,” Sturns said.

They resented their treatment and stormed out of the restaurant.

That event and others like it inspired Sturns to pursue a career in law although the result may not have been what he anticipated.

“I never had any dreams or desires to be a judge in law school,” he said. “I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer. But at the time, we realized there were no black judges on the court, so the group I was with asked me to apply.”

Sturns has made his mark on history as the first black judge to serve on Texas’ highest criminal court. Sturns now looks to give back to his community.

“I currently work on the drug court for this county,” he said. “If I can help somebody stop using or turn their life away from drugs and alcohol, I will feel very rewarded.”

Sturns’ advice to the next generation who has grown up in a fairly less racist society was to “recognize that you will run into some discrimination … we all have some prejudices. What will you do about it when you encounter it?”

He said he believes “more and more young people are getting educated. It’s the key to success and how people view the world. It’s the one thing that will help us get over segregation.”

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