A trio of African-American women was honored by the Nassau State Supreme Court in Mineola this past Friday as part of the Seventh Annual Black History Month Celebration.
Justice Cheryl E. Chambers, Gladys Taylor and Valerie Singleton were the three women specifically chosen by the Nassau County Courts’ Black History Month Committee and the Amistad Long Island Black Bar Association for this year’s ceremonies, entitled “Black Women in American History,” which specifically focused on women in the African-American community.
Situated among the numerous portraits of former Supreme Court justices in the ceremonial chambers, a lone portrait of man with a slightly darker complexion was hung on the southern wall: that of Alfred S. Robbins, the first black justice elected to the court and whose name is placed on the award bestowed on Judge Chambers.
Born in North Carolina in 1925, “he endured through all of those indignities and brought himself to a point where he went to law school… and always had a perspective that whatever he accomplished, he accomplished in the name of his people and his community,” said County Court Judge Jerald S. Carter, who as an assistant district attorney was mentored by Robbins.
“He was an outstanding judge and devoted to his community so it felt great that the bar association and Black History Month Committee felt I have similar qualities,” Chambers, an associate justice of the Appellate Division, said of Robbins.
“The history of this award is because this man, a family man, a man of God, a man who came into the courtroom, wore black robes and dispensed justice equally is an individual who recognized the full worth of being first,” Carter said.
Taylor, a records supervisor for the past 33 years, was honored with the Longevity and Endurance Award. She began working for the New York State Unified Court-System in 1979 as an office typist, working her way up to her current position as Microfilm and Record’s Supervisor of the Nassau County Surrogate’s Court.
The Amistad Presidential Award was presented to Singleton, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Nassau regional office in the office of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
In her address, Singleton expressed her belief that Montgomery boycott leader Rosa Parks and Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman to be appointed to a federal judgeship, should be honored every month – not just during Black History month.
“Their achievements made it possible for me to be in the position that I am today,” she said.
The significance of the ceremony’s court-chamber setting – of being a place of equal rights for all – was not lost on audience members.
“I know that I’m breaking barriers,” said Judge Michele M. Woodard, the first black woman elected to the tenth judicial district of Nassau and Suffolk County and Chair of the Black History Month Committee. “(I) hope to have more than just a Black History Month program for the courts [in the future].”