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Aug. 25, 2011
Former Supreme Court Justice Speaks on his Life, Law and Legacy

Celebrating his birthday on Wednesday with members of the Columbus Metropolitan Club, former Supreme Court Justice Robert M. Duncan spoke about several fundamental moments in his life.

Justice Duncan, who served on the Supreme Court of Ohio from 1969 to 1971 and was the first African-American on the Court, told his life story during a question and answer series at the Athletic Club of Columbus. Justice Yvette McGee Brown also attended the event.

Justice Duncan was the first African-American judge of the Franklin County Municipal Court and later was appointed to the U.S. District Court for southern Ohio.

Sharron Kornegay, Abbott Nutritional public affairs manager, asked questions in three parts: life, law and legacy.

While speaking about his life, Justice Duncan said he initially wanted to become a teacher.

“Because of the racial situation at that time there were no available jobs in Columbus,” Justice Duncan said.

He said after substitute teaching in Chicago he made his way back to The Ohio State University to study law.

“I can’t say I really knew anything about the law,” Justice Duncan said. “In life having the so-called ‘black experience’… I knew the value of education but nothing more than that. I lacked direction and lacked the notion; it never occurred to me that I could ever be a lawyer.”

While on the U.S. District Court for southern Ohio, Justice Duncan presided over the Columbus schools’ desegregation case.

Justice Duncan said students still self-impose segregation and said those racial problems should be addressed.

“School desegregation we still have. Schools today are more racially segregated then they were when I had the case,” Justice Duncan said, speaking of the social and cultural segregation that he said exists among students.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a new round of school desegregation cases. I just don’t see that happening. I don’t know that there are any more real cases of intentional segregation in the legal sense.”

Justice Duncan also spoke about the need to improve the community.

“We need to fix these neighborhoods. We have to somehow do something with so many of our citizens who are going nowhere. They’re involved with guns, gangs, violence and drugs… This is not an African-American problem. This is an American problem and we’ve got to fix this.”

A complete biography of Justice Duncan is available at www.supremecourt.ohio.gov.

For a high-resolution, print-quality photo of Justice Duncan at the event, visit: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/PIO/news/2011/2011_metroclub.zip.