William Yates Jr., 80, brought charges against H. Rap Brown

May 25, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William B. Yates Jr., a retired Dorchester County District judge who, as state's attorney, brought the controversial charges against black leader H. Rap Brown after the 1967 Cambridge riots, died Tuesday of a stroke at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury. He was 80.

Judge Yates was Dorchester County state's attorney when Mr. Brown was charged with inciting a crowd to burn part of Cambridge and with other riot-related charges. Those charges were dropped in 1973 when the defendant pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for failure to appear at his 1973 trial.

"It was a difficult time for all concerned, and Bill Yates wasn't an intransigent man," Chief District Judge Robert F. Sweeney said yesterday.

"For years, I have received letters from members and leaders of the African-American community from Cambridge and elsewhere praising Judge Yates for his fairness and kindness," Judge Sweeney said.

Judge Yates said in later years that although the Brown case was his most publicized case, it was by no means his biggest.

The Cambridge native who once was described as being a "physical stereotype of the [Eastern Shore's] watermen and farmers," came to the law late in life. A Wicomico County lawyer who often opposed him in court called him the "Clarence Darrow of the Eastern Shore."

After graduating from high school in the early 1930s, Judge Yates joined the Coast Guard for two years, then began college part time at the University of Maryland.

At the same time, he was working for the Talbot County Health Department and managing a seafood company.

With World War II under way, he enlisted in 1942 in the Army and was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge -- winning a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for valor. He was discharged at the end of the war as a lieutenant.

He went to work in the insurance business, first at Sears, Roebuck and Co. in Cambridge, then opening his own agency.

"He was born a poor boy, and he was a poor man who worked all day and commuted to law school at night," said Judge Sweeney. loved him -- he was an extraordinary man of America."

At 42, after sending his son and daughter through college, Judge Yates returned to college and, in 1961, earned a law degree from the University of Baltimore.

After two years in Washington as an assistant to an Iowa representative, he returned to Cambridge and opened a law practice. Three years later, he was appointed Dorchester County state's attorney. In 1976, he was appointed to the District Court, from which he retired in 1986.

A tall, angular man who smoked a pipe, Judge Yates was chief administrative judge for Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset and Worcester counties.

"He was clearly one of the most unforgettable individuals I've ever met," Judge Sweeney said. "He was a good and decent man."

Until recent years, Judge Sweeney said, Judge Yates began his day by rowing a boat five miles on the Choptank River.

"Because of it, he had the most developed shoulders of any man I ever saw," Judge Sweeney said.

An interest in Native American artifacts led Judge Yates to collect more than 10,000 Nanticoke arrowheads, implements, beads and pipes. He lectured on the subject.

He took a friend's grandchildren to an island near Cambridge to hunt for arrowheads, planting arrowheads to make sure the children would "discover" some.

"He kept making excuses for his poor eyesight as the boys yelled and screamed as they found the arrowheads. It will be forever etched in my memory. He had such a love and appreciation for children," Judge Sweeney said.

Judge Yates was active in many civic organizations, including Boy Scout Troop 159, the American Legion, VFW and Cambridge Lodge 1272 of the Elks.

He was a director of Dorchester General Hospital and was active in the Dorchester County Historical Society.

His professional memberships included the Maryland Bar Association and the Dorchester County Bar Association.

Services will be at 1 p.m. today at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Cambridge, where he was a member.

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Eleanora Lowe; a son, William B. Yates III of Snow Hill; a daughter, Mary Yates Vaeth of Snow Hill; a brother, G. Dorsey Yates of Parsonburg; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 5/25/96

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