I had the honor and the pleasure of talking with Judge Thelton Henderson on two occasions in January 2013. As he approaches his 80th birthday, it is clear that he is in a reflective mood. He was anxious to emphasize the point that he makes to young people aspiring to a legal career: essentially, if he can do it, they can too. On that point, however, he is not entirely persuasive. Judge Henderson works very hard and has an uncommon strength of character, humility, and commitment to the public interest. At a time when public servants are not only underappreciated, but sometimes blamed outright for societal ills, he shines like the brightest of stars.
The fact that Judge Henderson’s life story would make a fascinating novel about the intersection of American jurisprudence with African-American history circa 1933 to the present has not escaped notice. A documentary entitled Soul of Justice: Thelton Henderson’s American Journey was released in 2005. And the fact that Boalt Hall, his alma mater, established the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice reflects his iconic standing in the Northern California legal community. He is the recipient of the 2013 Thurgood Marshall Award from the Section of ABA Individual Rights and Responsibilities and will be honored at a dinner at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco in August 2013.