William Sylvester White, Law School alum, judge, and one of the "Golden Thirteen"

William White

In celebration of Black History Month, I honor Judge William Sylvester "Syl" White, 1914-2004. Judge White attended The College at The University of Chicago from 1931-1934. He received his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1937. He was a public servant who served as city, state, and federal attorney in Chicago, and directed several city departments. He became a judge in 1964. He was a former presiding judge of the Cook County Juvenile Court. He served as a judge on the Illinois Appellate Court from 1980 until his retirement in 1991. (1)

Judge White was one of the “Golden Thirteen,” the first African-American naval officers, in 1944. (2) (3) Because the original 13 succeeded, they paved the way for others to follow. (4)

(1) Obituary: Barbara Sherlock, "William Sylvester White, 89," Chicago Tribune, February 20, 2004; Oral History: White, William Sylvester, The Hon. — Member of the Golden Thirteen (1914–2004) (U.S. Naval Institute); Biography (LawMakers, MilitaryMakers): The Honorable William Sylvester White (The HistoryMakers: The Nation's Largest African American Video Oral History Collection).

(2) In 1941, 2% of the U.S. Navy was Black, but none of them were officers. See Kristy N. Kamarck, Diversity, Inclusion, and Equal Opportunity in the Armed Services: Background and Issues for Congress, June 5, 2019 (Congressional Research Service, R44321)(via FAS). In 2020, there were 10 Black admirals (of 268 total), and 8% of all naval officers were Black. See the U.S. Department of Defense Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion "2020 Portrait of Black / African American Active Duty Service Members / 2020 Portrait of Black / African American DoD Government Civilians".

(3) The Golden Thirteen: Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers (Paul L. Stillwell, ed., Naval Institute Press, 1993 & 2013).

(4) Although, there are still obstacles to overcome, such as racism in the U.S. Navy. See Navy Lt. Cmdr. Desmond Walker, "The Burden of a Black Naval Officer," Military News, June 16, 2020; Steve Walsh, "Why Are There So Few Black Admirals In The Navy? Some Blame A Culture Of Discrimination," KPBS News, September 16, 2020, and longer version, Steve Walsh, NPR All Things Considered/WBEZ Chicago, November 6, 2020.