Judge served as a 'freedom fighter in South

 DETROIT — Retired Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Claudia House Morcom — who gained national acclaim as the legal director for Mississippi Freedom Summer 50 years ago — died at her Detroit home on Sunday Aug. 17. She was 82.

A native Detroiter, Morcom graduated from the city’s Northern High School and obtained her undergraduate and law degrees from Wayne State University.
In 1960, Morcom became the first African American woman at one of America’s first integrated law firms — Goodman, Crockett, Eden and Robb — which was known for its labor and civil rights advocacy. Morcom volunteered to represent civil rights activists in Mississippi during Freedom Summer in 1964, arriving on the day civil rights martyrs Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were kidnapped. One week later, she returned to Detroit, packed her bags and went back to Mississippi where she would live and work for more than a year as the National Lawyers Guild Director of Legal Assistance. During Freedom Summer, she helped to lead efforts to register voters and desegregate public facilities.

She returned to Detroit and in 1966 became the founding director of Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services, where she focused on creating strategies to provide legal representation for indigent clients. In 1972, she began an 11-year stint as an administrative law judge for the Michigan Department of Labor, Bureau of Workers’ Disability Compensation.

In 1983, Michigan Governor James Blanchard appointed her to the Wayne County Circuit Court. She was later elected to a seat on that bench and served there for 15 years.

After her retirement, Morcom served as a mediator for Wayne County and devoted much of her time to social justice advocacy, traveling widely to support campaigns for civil rights, equal justice and peace. Morcom’s leadership as a civil rights advocate and legal pioneer was widely lauded. In 1964, she appeared on the cover of Jet magazine and she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996.

An avid jazz aficionado, she was a huge fan and supporter of Detroit musicians. 

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday Aug. 23 at Plymouth United Church of Christ 600 E. Warren Avenue in Detroit. A family hour will precede the service at 10 a.m. 

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Judge Claudia House Morcom Annual Scholarship and sent to Wayne State University Fund Office, 5475 Woodward, Detroit, MI 48202. 

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Swanson Funeral Home in Detroit.


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