FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III (left) and and James E. Graves Jr. (right)
Photo by Courtesy FBI
Fifth Circuit Judge and Clinton native James E. Graves Jr. will receive an award in May honoring a lifetime of work in the Mississippi legal system.
The Mississippi Trailblazer of the Decade award adds to Graves' numerous honors. The Trailblazer awards recognize Mississippians who have demonstrated a commitment to racial, gender and cultural diversity and who present Mississippi in a positive light.
The son of Rev. James E. Graves, a Baptist minister, James E. Graves Jr. graduated from Sumner High School as valedictorian, achieving the highest grade-point average in his class. He went on to gain a bachelor's degree in sociology from Millsaps College in 1975 and worked for two years in the state Department of Public Welfare. He then went back to school, earning his law degree in 1980 and a master's of public administration a year later at Syracuse University.
Graves, now 59, began his legal career with Central Mississippi Legal Services and spent several years in the state attorney general's office and in private practice. In 1991, former Gov. Ray Mabus appointed Graves to the Hinds County Circuit Court, where he served for 10 years.
Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove elevated Graves to the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2001, where he was the third black jurist ever on that court, and the only African American on the court at the time. He won an election for the seat in 2004. In 2011, he took a place on the bench of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals after President Barack Obama nominated him in June 2010. Graves was only the second African American (and the first from Mississippi) appointed to the 5th Circuit.
"Throughout his career James E. Graves has shown unwavering integrity and an outstanding commitment to public service," Obama said at the time.
"This is an incredible honor," Graves said in a release when he learned of the nomination. "I am humbled by the support which I have received, and I look forward to serving our nation in this important position."
Justice Graves has generously shared his legal knowledge with the next generation of Mississippians. He has taught courses in media and civil-rights law, and the sociology of law as an adjunct professor at Millsaps College, Tougaloo College, and Jackson State University. Graves has also coached high school, college and law school mock trial teams, including the 2001 state champion Murrah High School team. Also in 2001, he was the Jackson Public Schools Parent of the Year.
Graves is married to Bettye Ramsey Graves, associate vice president for enrollment management at Jackson State University. The couple has three sons.
Other honorees for 2013 Mississippi Trailblazer awards include University of Mississippi Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat; Phyllis Anderson, chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; and the Right Revs. Duncan M. Gray Jr. and Duncan M. Gray III. The Grays have both served as bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi.
The awards will be held at a black-tie gale at the BancorpSouth Conference Center in Tupelo May 4.
Former recipients of Trailblazer awards include former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore; former Mississippi House Speaker William J. "Billy" McCoy; former Assistant Secretary of State Constance Slaughter Harvey, the first black woman to graduate from the University of Mississippi Law School; Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson; Oleta Fitzgerald, southern regional director of the Children's Defense Fund Southern Regional Office; and Nancy Loome, executive director of The Parents' Campaign.