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Great Black Kentuckians

Benjamin F. Shobe

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Benjamin F. Shobe (1920 - ) Benjamin Shobe is a retired circuit judge and one of the civil rights attorneys who helped integrate the University of Kentucky. The son of educators, he was born in Bowling Green, Ky., on Oct. 2, 1920. He received a bachelor’s degree from Kentucky State College in 1941. He received a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1946. He had wanted to attend the University of Kentucky or University of Louisville Law schools, but African Americans were not allowed to attend graduate or professional schools in Kentucky at that time. Instead, the state of Kentucky paid Shobe’s tuition to the University of Michigan under the Anderson-Mayer Bill. This law paid tuition for black students at out-of-state graduate schools since they were not permitted to attend with their white counterparts inside the state. Shobe became an accomplished trial attorney. Then, in 1949, he, along with Thurgood Marshall (who later became U.S. Supreme Court Justice), James Nabritt, and James Crumlin, represented Lyman T. Johnson in a well-known case involving the University of Kentucky. The men triumphed, and the university integrated, admitting black students into its graduate and professional schools. The history of black judges in the commonwealth began in 1885 with Nathaniel R. Harper, who was the first African American appointed to the bench. After Harper’s ascension, nearly seven decades passed before another black judge was called upon to serve. Judge Benjamin Shobe was appointed as a Jefferson Circuit Court judge in 1953, albeit only as a substitute and only for one day. At that time, Jefferson Circuit Court had three branches: the Common Law Branch, the Equity Branch and the Criminal Branch. Each branch had divisions, including the Criminal Branch, which had two divisions. One of the two Criminal Branch divisions was presided over by Judge Frank Ropke, and he appointed Shobe. Later, in November 1977, Shobe was appointed to the 15th Division of the Jefferson Circuit Court where he served until his retirement in 1992. He was the first, and for two of those years, the only African American Chief Judge of the Jefferson Circuit Court with its 16 divisions. In 2006, The Louisville Bar Association and the Louis D. Brandeis American Inns of Court at Louisville association developed the Judge Shobe Civility and Professionalism Award to recognize Louisville Bar Association members “whose lives and careers embody professionalism, civility, honesty and courtesy” – all trademarks portrayed by Shobe throughout his career, association officials said. About his life, he says, "I was always willing to try, I was never going to back down, I was willing to take the challenge, win, lose, or draw.”

56 Photos in Album

Robert Todd Duncan
Benjamin F. Shobe

Willa Brown Chappell
Nellie Conley

Reverend Louis H. Coleman, Jr.
Curlee Brown, Sr.

Morris F. X. Jeff, Jr., DSW
Elder Watson Diggs

Carter Godwin Woodson
Margaret Garner


Last Updated 4/8/2014
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