National Civil Rights Museum founder Judge D'Army Bailey died - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

National Civil Rights Museum founder Judge D'Army Bailey died

D'Army Bailey (Source: WMC Action News 5) D'Army Bailey (Source: WMC Action News 5)

A family member confirmed judge D'Army Bailey, 73, died Sunday.

Bailey was one of the Memphis leaders responsible for keeping the Lorraine Motel from destruction and bringing the National Civil Rights Museum to Memphis.

He was born in Memphis and was a circuit court judge, civil rights activist, author, and film actor.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton described D'Army Bailey as a fighter and someone who always worked for the greater good. He said that while Bailey's death did not come as a surprise to him, it was still very painful and emotional.

"When it came to fighting for a cause, he was honorably ornery. When he got a burr under his saddle, he didn't give up and took no prisoners, but it was always for a higher cause," Mayor Wharton said.

Mayor Wharton said that while Bailey was a father, husband, attorney, council member, writer and actor, he will always be remembered for the Civil Rights Museum. He said he is going to work with the museum to make sure Bailey is honored appropriately.

"He wanted people to feel not just remember," Wharton said. "He wanted you to get goosebumps and have the museum bring tears to your eyes. That was captured in this museum."

Wharton was just one of many Memphians reeling from the loss of Bailey on Sunday.

Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell, Jr. spoke of Bailey in a statement:

"Judge Bailey was a dedicated public servant. He served with fairness and professionalism in the judicial arena. Moreover, his guidance and expertise on civil rights and other community initiatives led to greater opportunities for the citizens of Shelby County. All of us at Shelby County Government extend our sympathy to his family.” 

Bailey grew up in South Memphis near Mississippi Boulevard. He graduated from a then-segregated Booker T. Washington High School in 1959.

He attended the nation's largest historically black university, Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There, he joined the fight for civil rights.

His actions eventually led to his expulsion, with some protests even landing him in jail.

He eventually received his degree from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and then spent time traveling the country and practicing law.

In 1974, Bailey returned to Memphis where he opened a practice with his brother, Walter Lee Bailey, Jr.

In 1982, Bailey became part of a group of attorneys and activists who raised money to save the Lorraine Motel from destruction. He served on the board from 1983 until the museum opened in 1991.

By then, he had been elected as a circuit court judge. Eventually, he went into civil law, focusing on medical malpractice, nursing home liability, and catastrophic injury.

He also played parts in many films, including Deadline, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and The People Versus Larry Flynt.

In a statement from Harold Ford, Sr., Ford said this of Bailey:

"I am deeply saddened to learn of the loss of my dear friend, the Honorable D’Army Bailey.  Judge Bailey has offered so much to the Memphis community, the State of Tennessee, and the nation as a public servant in the judiciary and as an unwavering advocate for justice.

Our community was made better by his years of service, his stunning intellect and a deep appreciation for the rule of law.

We should all be thankful for his tireless efforts and leadership. He will be truly missed by many, and I will personally miss him and the friendship I shared with him and his family."

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