Memphis, Tennessee is in mourning after the news that native son D’Army Bailey died last Sunday after battling a long illness. Bailey was a judge, attorney, actor and author and an important champion of civil rights in the city. He was the primary force behind the campaign to create the National Civil Rights Museum in the state.
Bailey was born November 29, 1941 in Memphis. He attended Southern University but was expelled from the school for leading a boycott. Activists from around the nation raised funds for Bailey, which allowed him to complete his undergraduate studies at Clark University in Massachusetts and then a law degree from Yale Law School in 1967.
After a stint working in New York for the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council, Bailey headed west to the Bay Area to practice law. In 1971, he was elected to the Berkeley City Council, serving just two years before he was ousted via a recall vote.
Bailey returned to Memphis and opened a practice with his brother, continuing to focus on civil rights. In 1982, Bailey and group of attorneys and activists pooled their resources to save the aging Lorraine Hotel, the site where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The city was planning to demolish the building, but the group bought the hotel for $144,000.
In 1990, Bailey was elected to the Circuit Court of Tennessee for the 13th Judicial District at Memphis bench. Bailey served the first of his judgeship terms for 19 years. Just a year into his first term, Bailey opened the National Civil Rights Museum on September 28, 1991. It has since undergone a $27.5 million renovation and was reopened to the public in September 2014.
Coincidentally, Bailey returned to the judge’s bench earlier in the same month. In his time away from the bench, he worked as a civil trail lawyer and lectured around the country. Bailey also acted in a handful of films, including How Stella Got Her Groove Back and The People Vs. Larry Flynt.
According to Bailey’s wife, he had been battling a long illness that some outlets have reported as cancer although no official cause of his death has been made public. He was 73. Bailey is survived by his wife, Adrienne, and two adult sons, Justin and Merritt.