What You Know About
Judge Bruce M. Wright


(1918 - 2005)

Former New York State Supreme Court Justice

He was born in Princeton, New Jersey and raised in Harlem, New York. He was awarded a scholarship to attend Princeton in 1939, but denied admission when the university learned that he was Black, Wright was denied admission to Notre Dame on \ the same grounds.

He had no trouble entering a U.S. Army’s Infantry Division. But after World War II he went AWOL, making his way to Paris, where he was befriended by Senegalese poet Leopold Senghor, who later became his country's first president. "I was introduced to him as an American poet. All I ever wanted to be in life was a poet," said Wright, a friend of Langston Hughes. Wright's first book of poetry, From the Shaken Tower, was edited by Langston Hughes and published in 1944. He then graduated from Lincoln University, attended Fordham Law School and obtained his law degree from New York Law School.

After receiving his law degree he worked for the law firm, Proskauer Rose, where he represented such jazz legends as Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Max Roach. Wright worked as a criminal and civil lawyer. Appointed as the General Counsel for the Human Resources Administration in NYC, Wright served as a judge in New York's civil and criminal courts and was elected to NY State Supreme Court in 1982, and retired on Dec. 31, 1994. Mayor John V. Lindsay named him to the bench in 1970. Judge Wright was critical of the judicial system and felt that race and class all too frequently determined the outcome of a trial.

Wright was the author of a 1987 book, “Black Robes, White Justice,” about the role of race in the judicial system. Justice Wright spent 25 years on the bench in both criminal and civil cases, gaining a reputation as a scholarly and provocative jurist who sprinkled his opinions with literary quotations. Wright suffered a heart attack in March 2000 and was made an honorary member of Princeton's 2001 65 years after being denied a scholarship because of his race.

Judge Bruce M. Wright, who denounced what he called racism in the criminal justice system and created a furor in the 1970’s by setting low bail for many poor and minority suspects. He died in his sleep on March 24, 2005 at his home in Harlem, New York. He was 86. His wife, Elizabeth Davidson-Wright, announced his death.

He believed that White judges often did not treat Black defendants fairly. He denounced racism in the criminal justice system and was known for his policy on bail, which prompted the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association to call him "Turn 'Em Loose Bruce." The judge was adamant that his imposition of low bail was simply upholding the Eighth Amendment, which states "excessive bail shall not be required." Judge Wright stood by his bail policy throughout his career. "I have never changed my mind about the Eighth Amendment," he said shortly before he retired, the New York Times reported. "To say that I would've done things differently means to me I would have been a good boy, kept my mouth shut and availed myself of the benefits of the system. I don't think I can do that. I don't think I could ever do that."

P.S.-I will load audio for you to here and post in RBG's E-Zine