February 2018

African American History Month Spotlight:
Judge Theodore McMillian

Theodore McMillian was born in 1919, the great-grandson of a slave, and grew up in an impoverished area of St. Louis as the oldest of ten children. Despite graduating first in class from Saint Louis University School of Law, racial discrimination made it difficult for him to find a position in a law firm. Determined to practice law, he and Alphonse Lynch, the first African American to graduate from Saint Louis University’s law school (McMillian was the second), established the firm of Lynch & McMillian. Over the course of his remarkable career, McMillian would break down long-standing racial barriers to rise to the second highest court in the nation.
He was the first African American to serve:

• Missouri’s state circuit court, by appointment to St. Louis City Circuit Court, 22nd Judicial District, 1956
• Missouri’s state appellate court, by appointment to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, 1972
• the federal bench in the seven states of the Eighth Circuit, by appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, 1978
Judge McMillian died on January 18, 2006, leaving behind a legacy as a man of firsts, an advocate of civil rights, a wise mentor and supporter for the many individuals who needed a helping hand, and a man of humility. A sign in his office bore his credo: “It is much more important to be human than to be important.”
For more on Judge McMillian, visit his permanent display in the west hall of the 27th floor of St. Louis’ Eagleton Courthouse, his traveling display in the St. Louis Library on the 22nd floor, or Judge McMillian’s page on the Historical Society website.