Judge Russell Sugarmon passed away at the age of 89 early Monday morning after battling a long-time illness, R.S. Lewis Funeral Home said. Funeral arrangements are ongoing.
According to a biography sent by the funeral home, Sugarmon was born in May 1929 in Memphis and eventually graduated from Booker T. Washington when he was just 15 years old. He received his higher education at Rutgers University, Harvard Law School and Boston University.
He worked as an attorney in Memphis for sometime before becoming one of the founding members of Ratner, Sugarmon, Lucas, Willis and Caldwell, the first integrated law firm in the South. He then worked with the Juvenile Court System from 1976 to 1987 before being appointed to the General Sessions bench in 1987.
Sugarmon was the first African-American in the city to run for a major office in modern times, in 1959. He served in the Tennessee House of Representatives as a Democrat for the 11th District from 1967 to 1979.
As a member of the NAACP, Sugarmon was instrumental in using the law to fight legal battles to desegregate public transportation, schools and restaurants, members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators said.
“Judge Sugamon’s accomplishments obviously make him a Memphis icon," said Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis, chairman of the Black Caucus. "But in addition to all of the career accolades, it should be noted what an extraordinary husband, father, grandfather, friend and human being he was. Everything he stood for in his public life, he also demonstrated in his private life. Russell Sugarmon was a humble, kind and good man. The members of Tennessee Black Caucus are grateful for the generation of giants of conviction, advocacy and activism that made it possible for us to serve today. ”