Civil Rights

Federal Judge's Unusual Story: My Grandfather Was a Slave


As chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Audrey Collins is often called upon to speak at public events.

But as she contemplated what to say at a luncheon with a group of female judges and attorneys visiting from Afghanistan, she realized she needed to take a different approach with women who risked their lives daily by practicing law in defiance of the Taliban, reports the Los Angeles Times.

So she decided to tell them about her own life. Both her own father and her paternal grandfather had children late in life, and as a result Collins, 63, has the now-unusual background of being the granddaughter of a slave, the newspaper recounts. Her grandfather, after being freed sometime in the 1860s, worked his way through elementary school and high school and became a minister.

Her father was a dentist, but even around 1950, racism was still a problem for her family when they became the first blacks to move into a white neighborhood in Chester, Pa., a struggling suburb west of Philadelphia, Collins recounts. As a girl of 5, she returned home with her family one day to find their new home there flooded: Someone had broken in, stopped up the sink and tub drains and turned the water on.

With the help of an administrative law clerk, Collins put together a slide show about her family intertwined with images of the civil rights movement here in the U.S., hoping to inspire the Afghan women to persevere.

“They don’t need courage. They’ve got plenty of that,” Collins says. “I wanted to give them some hope.”

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