MONONGAHELA, Pa. (AP) - Paul Simmons, the first black federal judge in western Pennsylvania, has died at his home of natural causes. He was 93.
Simmons was a railroad worker when his right leg was amputated in 1942. When no lawyer would take his case, Simmons studied the law, sued and settled with the railroad himself.
“He had tenacity,” Gwendolyn Simmons, his wife of 64 years told the (Washington) Observer-Reporter. “Can you imagine being 21 and having a leg amputated? That’s when he realized he’d have to use his hands in terms of making a living.”
Simmons, who died Oct. 9 at his home in Monongahela, was born and raised in that Washington County mill town before the Pennsylvania Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation awarded him a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh after his railroad injury. After graduating in 1946, Simmons attended Harvard Law School, receiving his degree and passing the bar in 1949.
Simmons taught law at colleges in the Carolinas, and at South Carolina State mentored a student on how to pursue the first federal legal challenge to the separate-but-equal doctrine which the U.S. Supreme Court had used to uphold legal segregation.
Simmons eventually returned to western Pennsylvania where he was appointed a Common Pleas judge in Washington County in 1973. He served on that court until 1978, when then-President Jimmy Carter nominated him to the U.S. District Court bench in Pittsburgh where he served until retiring in 1990.
Simmons is survived by his wife and three children. The Frye Funeral Home in Monongahela was handling arrangements and visitation Tuesday and Wednesday. Simmons’ funeral will be Thursday at 11 a.m. at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Monongahela.
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