Justice and Joe Howard

Uncompromising: The late Joseph C. Howard Sr., fought pernicious custom and injustice in high places.

September 20, 2000

REPEATEDLY challenging pernicious authority and custom, he was called angry -- as if anger in the pursuit of justice were a character flaw.

He cajoled people to "synchronize conduct with conscience," to act as they spoke.

In a lifetime of selfless service, Judge Joseph C. Howard, who died Saturday at the age of 77, more than achieved the goals he set for himself.

In the days of sometimes violent civil rights protest, he chose to make "a constructive difference" within the system.

By exposing the gap between promises of fairness and the grim reality of discrimination, he compelled change. He refused to back down.

At the University of Iowa, he quit the football team when his coach refused to apologize for using a racial epithet.

In Baltimore, where he came to practice law, he challenged discrimination and its practitioners in the administration of justice.

He ran against sitting judges of Baltimore's Supreme Bench in 1968, defying an unwritten rule not to campaign against members of the city's virtually all-white courts.

His victory made him the first African-merican to win a citywide contest for the Supreme Bench.

He immediately called the court "a bastion of discrimination by race and sex."

In 1979, U.S. Senator Paul S. Sarbanes nominated him to the U.S. District Court, then 96 percent white. In that role, he continued to take on the powerful on behalf of foster children, prison inmates and others who needed protection from the law.

He wanted to make what he called "a constructive difference." Few have succeeded more splendidly.

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