Board of Trustees gains alumnus, Chicago lawyer as newest member

By Lisa Chung

Recognized by Chicago Magazine as one of the 30 toughest lawyers in Chicago, and “first and only African American” to hold the position of corporation counsel for the city of Chicago, alumnus James D. Montgomery has arrived at the University as a new member of the Board of Trustees.

Montgomery will be the keynote speaker for Black History Month, making this his first major speech since being appointed trustee by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The keynote presentation, “The New Black Realism: Attaining Social Mobility and Advocating for Progress,” will be hosted by the Black Law Students Association and the College of Law Diversity Committee today at 6 p.m. in the Max L. Rowe Auditorium of the College of Law, 504 E. Pennsylvania Ave.

Montgomery’s “stellar career and recent membership to the Board of Trustees” made him an ideal choice for this presentation, said Benjamin Jones, second year law student and president of the Black Law Students Association.

“From the law school’s perspective, to have James Montgomery, who is a legendary litigator and a brand new member of the Board of Trustees, as a keynote speaker is a delight,” said David Johnson, assistant dean of communications for the College of Law. “To be able to bring an alum of this magnitude is a real testament to the (Black Law Students Association.)”

Montgomery, who has been a Chicago lawyer for nearly half a century, was appointed to the University Board of Trustees on Jan. 18 to fill the seat formerly held by Champaign County Republican leader, Marjorie Sodemann.

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    Since only having gone to one board meeting, Montgomery said he is in the process of familiarizing himself with the issues at the University.

    “I will certainly handle the issues that face the University and will deal with them forthrightly,” Montgomery said. And although he has “not formulated any goals yet,” he said he will be the best trustee he can be.

    Through his speech, Montgomery wants “to really inspire (students) to do things in law other than work for themselves. To work for the community and do work for those that are powerless and impoverished.”

    In 1953, Montgomery received a degree in political science from the University and then a law degree in 1956.

    In the 1960s, Montgomery defended The Black Panthers, a political organization that focused on terminating police brutality, providing better education, and ensuring equal protection under the law for blacks.

    Montgomery said he will also discuss “the plight of the African American lawyer and the need for change” in his speech.

    “Being an African-American lawyer for more than 50 years, I have faced many issues and want to give (students) suggestions for success,” Montgomery said.

    Many of these issues are similar to the ones America as a country faces, which Montgomery considers to be racism.

    This racism, he said, hinders African-American lawyers in succeeding to obtain certain clients.

    Jones hopes to expose black students to successful approaches that will help them “move up the social ladder and be in power of institutions and corporations.”

    “(Montgomery) is the best example for not just lawyers, but for people who want to be successful,” Jones said, “because he exemplifies tenacity and dedication.”

    Hear Montgomery Speak

    What: Black History Month keynote speaker for “The New Black Realism: Attaining Social Mobility and Advocating for Progress”

    When: Tuesday, Feb. 276 p.m.

    Where: Max L. Rowe Auditorium