Albert Porter Jr., Cook County judge who guided others in Black community into law, dead at 90
‘He came from very humble beginnings and blossomed, like a rose growing in a sidewalk,’ his son Richard Porter said.
Albert Porter Jr. was 3 when his father sent for him and his mother to leave Mississippi and join him in Chicago in the 1930s amid the Great Depression.
His father had hoboed north aboard freight trains and worked janitorial jobs until earning enough money to reunite his family.
They settled in Bronzeville on the Near South Side and made sure their only son got an education.
Porter went on to earn a law degree; serve as a Cook County judge for 20 years; help found the Illinois Judicial Council, an organization that represents Black judges; and, at a time when few Blacks were practicing law, served as a guide post for many legal careers.
“He came from very humble beginnings and blossomed, like a rose growing in a sidewalk.” his son Richard Porter said.
Albert Porter, 90, died Jan. 5 due to complications from cancer.
“He was a mentor,” said Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, who as a young law student received a scholarship that Porter helped establish through the Cook County Bar Association.
“He was interested in not only personal success, but he thought that people should be committed to give back, committed to the idea of reaching back and offering a hand,” Evans said.
He championed “what the law could do for a community that desperately needed lawyers,” Evans said.
Albert Porter dove into the grassroots of Chicago machine politics in the 1960s and became a precinct captain in the 21st Ward, a move that paved the way for a phone call in 1969 that jump-started the young attorney’s judicial career.
Mayor Richard J. Daley was on the other end of the phone.
“He called to communicate his desire for my father to be a judge,” Richard Porter said.
Later that year, Albert Porter was appointed to a vacant position as a judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. The following year he was elected to the position.
After stepping down from the bench in 1990, he went into private practice with several other attorneys, including LeRoy Martin Jr.
“He was one of the people, quite honestly, who encouraged me to get on the bench,” said Martin, who served as a Cook County judge before he was elevated last year to a seat on the state’s appellate court.
“He was just a real real gentleman ... the sort of person that people looked up to,” he said. “I learned a lot from him. It’s a tragic loss.”
His circle of friends included politicians ranging from former U.S. Sen. Roland Burris to former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones.
“All those old school guys, they were like my uncles; they came up together through thesystem,” Richard Porter said.
Albert Porter worked as deputy chief attorney for the Forest Preserves of Cook County from 1999 to 2005 and chaired the Illinois StateBoard of Elections from 2007 to 2009.
Richard Porter recalled his father encouraged his children to strive for excellence and push into any discriminatory headwinds they might encounter.
“He said he was always aware that he had to be twice as good to get half as far,” his son said.
Albert Porter, who graduated from Wendell Phillips Academy High School, the University of Illinois andJohn Marshall Law School, raised his family in Chatham before moving to Beverly — becoming one of the few black families to take up residence in the largely white, Irish-Catholic neighborhood.
He wasn’t looking to be a pioneer. “We just needed a bigger house,” his son said.
In Chatham he was known as “Uncle Al” — the patriarch of the block who regularly fielded legal and educational questions.
His loves included painting, golfing, gardening and chess “because he loved thinking three steps ahead,” his son said.
At age 85, he still was riding roller coasters and water slides with his grandchildren, family said.
Albert Porter is survived by his wife, Mildred; three other children, Alvita, Darryl and Kimberly; and nine grandchildren.
Services have already been held.