Former Howard law dean and diversity leader Henry Ramsey dies at 80

Henry Ramsey Jr., a path-breaking lawyer, judge and former dean of Howard University School of Law, died March 14 after suffering a stroke at home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 80 years old.

Ramsey’s son, Charles Ramsey, told Diverse Issues in Higher Education that his father became interested in a career in the law in the late 1950s and early 1960s because of the discrimination and segregation that he and other African-Americans faced.

Ramsey played a key role in ABA diversity efforts, and the ABA Law Student Division presents an annual Dean Henry J. Ramsey Jr. Diversity Award recognizing work for the advancement of women, minorities, persons with disabilities and LGBT legal professionals and students. In 2000, Ramsey received the ABA’s Robert J. Kutack Award for significant contributions to collaboration among academia, the bench and the bar.

Ramsey briefly attended Howard University as an undergraduate, before becoming one of the first African-Americans to graduate from University of California at Riverside in 1960. Three years later, he received his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall. He then worked as prosecutor in Contra Costa County, and eventually became deputy district attorney.

In the late ’60s, Ramsey entered private practice, and successfully represented African-American police officers in Richmond, Calif., in a suit alleging discrimination after they were held back from promotions.

Ramsey then taught law at Boalt Hall from 1971-80, and spent four of those years as an elected member of the Berkeley City Council.

In 1981 he was appointed to the Alameda County Superior Court bench, staying there until 1990. It was then that he was asked become the law school dean at Howard University, where he remained for six years.

Ramsey chaired the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar from 1991-1992, and led Ramsey Commission’s examination of the association’s accreditation process for law schools. The council passed a memorial resolution (PDF) on March 15 in thanks for “his treasured friendship and his many contributions to public service, the Section, legal education, the judiciary, and the profession.”

“Henry Ramsey Jr. was a tireless worker and proponent of justice for all throughout his life, who led in the achievement of civil rights, ethics reforms, rule of law in Africa, bar passage improvement, and trial court procedural improvements,” the council said in the resolution.

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