D'Army Bailey

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D'Army Bailey (born November 29, 1941) is an attorney, retired circuit court judge, civil rights activist, author and film actor, born in Memphis, Tennessee. He also served as a city councilman in Berkeley, California, from 1971-73.

Bailey is founder of the National Civil Rights Museum which opened in 1991 at Memphis’ Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was slain in 1968. His 1993 book, Mine Eyes Have Seen: Dr. Martin Luther King’s Final Journey, focused on that period. A new book, The Education of a Black Radical, published in October 2009, recalls Bailey’s own history in the civil rights movement.[1]

His interest in civil liberties issues also led Bailey to film, where he portrayed a judge in the 1999 film The People vs. Larry Flynt.[2] He’s also had roles in seven other movies, including portrayals ranging from a minister to a street-hustling pool player. He is a member of the Screen Actors Guild.[3]

As a lawyer, Bailey practiced law for 16 years in Memphis before being elected as a judge on the Circuit Court of Tennessee's Thirtieth Judicial District in 1990. He presided over a nationally recognized trial lasting four months in 1999 in which three major tobacco firms were acquitted of wrongdoing in contributing to the deaths of smokers. He also has been twice nominated to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court.[4]

In September 2009, he retired from the bench and became a member of the Wilkes & McHugh, P.A, a national civil litigation law firm, founded in 1985 by Jim Wilkes and Tim McHugh.[5]

Bailey has lectured at law schools, including Harvard, Loyola in California, Washington and Lee, Washington University in St. Louis, and Notre Dame University. He also has published legal articles at the law schools at Harvard University, the University of Toledo, Washington and Lee, and Howard University. Bailey has served on the executive committee of the Tennessee Judicial Conference.[6]

He received his law degree from Yale Law School in 1967. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts in 2010.

Bailey is married to the former Adrienne Marie Leslie, and the couple have two adult sons, Justin and Merritt. He is licensed to practice in Tennessee, California, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.

Early years[edit]

The civil rights movement has been a steady current running through Bailey’s life. His involvement stemmed while growing up near Mississippi Boulevard in South Memphis and attending the segregated Booker T. Washington High School from 1955–59, where he graduated and went on to attend the nation's largest historically black university, Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.

As president of the school’s freshman class, and for the next two years Bailey was drawn into the fight against segregation, joining a sit-in at a Greyhound bus station, picketing against discriminatory hiring practices at Baton Rouge businesses, and leading a march from the Southern University campus to downtown to support fellow students jailed for demonstrating.

Bailey led a class boycott later, resulting in his expulsion. News of Bailey’s ouster coursed through the civil rights community to Clark University in Worcester, Mass., where sympathetic students had established a scholarship for a civil rights activist. The students raised $2,400 through community appeals, bake sales and car washes to bring Bailey to Clark and continue his education.[7]

At Clark, Bailey helped organize and became director of the Worcester Student Movement. In this role, he invited and hosted Malcolm X as a guest speaker at Clark, worked briefly with Abbie Hoffman in the Worcester movement’s early days, and interacted with such civil rights and student activist icons as James Meredith, John Lewis, Tom Hayden and Allard Lowenstein.[8]

The Worcester Student Movement was active tutoring students from the city’s low-income neighborhoods. It also picketed against a downtown department store for not employing blacks as clerks and organized demonstrations against a city manufacturing company. Bailey began to understand the power of law in advancing change as he assisted with the filing of legal complaints with the federal government to halt discrimination in the city.

Political involvement, public service[edit]

With his newly minted degree, Bailey worked in New York as national director of the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council recruiting law students for civil rights legal work in the South. Later, he moved to San Francisco to practice law and was elected to the Berkeley City Council, where he served from 1971 to 1973. In the tumultuous politics of Berkeley, he pushed efforts to open new job opportunities and for expanding housing, recreational and child-care programs.

Eventually, Bailey became ensnared in the divisive, coalition politics that dominated Berkeley city government at the time. Political conservatives and the city’s business community helped finance a recall effort targeting Bailey. Despite drawing support from such allies as civil rights’ leader Medgar Evers’ widow, Myrlie, Jesse Jackson, west coast ILWU labor leader Harry Bridges, Julian Bond, Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton, and the National Bar Association and it’s President, O.T.Wells, Bailey was recalled from the council in 1973. In 1974 he returned to Memphis, where he opened a law practice with his brother, Walter Lee Bailey, Jr.[9][10][11]

While running a full-service law practice, Bailey in 1982 became part of a group of attorneys and activists who raised $144,000 to buy the Lorraine Motel, site of the King assassination, at auction on the steps of the Shelby County Courthouse.[12][13][14]

A year later, Bailey made an unsuccessful run for Memphis mayor. But his focus soon became trained on establishing the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, serving as Board President from 1983 until the Museum opened in 1991. The museum on the site of the once-rundown motel has flourished and has become one of Memphis’ top visitors’ attractions. Exhibits trace the story of the struggle for African-American civil rights from the arrival of the first Africans in the American colonies in 1619 through the assassination of King in 1968.

A 2001 expansion added new buildings to the museum, including the former Bessie Brewer's rooming house at nearby 418 South Main Street, from which the alleged shot was fired that killed Dr. King. James Earl Ray was convicted of King’s killing and later died in prison while serving a 99-year sentence.

After lobbying to obtain public and private funding for the museum, Bailey resigned from its foundation board within months of the facility’s opening. Bailey said he felt fellow board members had lost sight of a central mission of the museum, which was to continue spurring advances in civil rights.

Bailey, by then an elected circuit court judge, envisioned the museum serving as a catalyst for activities aimed at what he said would “carry out the unfinished business of the civil rights movement,” inspiring youth and taking stands on minority-rights issues.[15][16][17]

Law career[edit]

From 1976 to 1983 Bailey worked part-time for the Shelby County public defender’s office, representing defendants in dozens of first-degree murder cases. During this period he also wrote a weekly opinion column for the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper. Bailey also has hosted a local television program, Memphis Forum, and has appeared as a legal and political analyst for Court TV.[18]

Before his first election to the court in 1990, Bailey had practiced law for 16 years in Memphis. His general law practice represented clients in criminal and civil cases. Much of his casework was in personal injury law. Bailey served three terms as president of the Memphis chapter of the National Bar Association. He was elected to three judicial terms and was twice nominated to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court. After 19 years as a circuit court judge in Tennessee’s Thirtieth Judicial District, Bailey resigned Sept. 15, 2009 [19] to resume a career as a civil trial lawyer focusing on medical malpractice, nursing home liability and catastrophic injury. Bailey joined Wilkes & McHugh, P.A. to take part in major cases with a firm recognized as a pioneer in nursing home abuse litigation. Wilkes & McHugh, P.A. has been named one of the 20 top plaintiffs’ firms in the nation by the National Law Journal.

Film career[edit]

Bailey’s film career has spanned three decades and he’s worked with such illustrious producers and directors as Oliver Stone, Miloš Forman, Kevin Sullivan, Michael Hausman, and Jim Jarmusch. Bailey has described acting as “hard work, but it’s something different for me.” Several associates have called Bailey a Renaissance man. Bailey’s response, according to a recent Memphis Flyer article: “I say, why not?”

In The People vs. Larry Flynt, Bailey starred among a host of familiar faces making film appearances, including James Carville, President Clinton’s former political consultant. His latest film, Cigarette Girl, centers on a story line somewhat ironic for a judge who 10 years ago presided over a landmark tobacco trial. The film is set in 2035, a future in which cigarette smokers have been ostracized into ghettos called “smoking sections” and a pack of cigarettes cost more than $60.[20]

In Bailey’s latest movie Deadline, he plays a judge in a scene shot in the Giles County courthouse in Pulaski, Tennessee, infamous as the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan.[21]

Bailey has appeared in the following films cast in these roles:


  1. ^ Bailey, D'Army (2009). The Education of a Black Radical. LSU Press. 
  2. ^ Branston, John (June 14, 2006). "Larry Parrish vs. D’Army Bailey: When Worlds Collide". Memphis Flyer (Memphis, TN: Contemporary Media). Retrieved September 28, 2009. 
  3. ^ "Internet Movie Database". Retrieved 28 September 2009. 
  4. ^ Whitehouse, Ken (20 September 2006), "A Conversation with SC Nominee Bailey", Nashville Post (Nashville, TN) 
  5. ^ "Wilkes & McHugh, P.A.". Retrieved 7 October 2009. 
  6. ^ "Ethics in America: Choosing Justice: Elections and Judicial Independence". Annenberg Media. Fall 2007. 
  7. ^ Bock, Linda (2 February 2009). "Lifelong Fight for Civil Rights". Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA: Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.). 
  8. ^ Jezer, Marty (1993). Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel. Rutgers University Press. 
  9. ^ Bailey, D'Army (23 September 2003), "A History Lesson from Berkeley in the 1970s", Berkeley Daily Planet (Berkeley, CA) 
  10. ^ Slater, Jack (October 1971), "The Guard Changes in Berkeley", Ebony Magazine (Berkeley, CA) 
  11. ^ Granville Davis, J. Don (December 1974), "The Review of Black Political Economy", The Review of Black Political Economy 
  12. ^ Bock, Linda (2 February 2009). "Lifelong Fight for Civil Rights". Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA: Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.). 
  13. ^ Norment, Lynn (April 1992), "Memphis Motel Becomes a Shrine", Ebony Magazine (Berkeley, CA) 
  14. ^ "ABC Evening News". ABC Evening News. December 13, 1982.
  15. ^ Bock, Linda (2 February 2009). "Lifelong Fight for Civil Rights". Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA: Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.). 
  16. ^ Norment, Lynn (April 1992), "Memphis Motel Becomes a Shrine", Ebony Magazine (Berkeley, CA) 
  17. ^ "ABC Evening News". ABC Evening News. September 2009.
  18. ^ Interview with D'Army Bailey 
  19. ^ Dries, Bill (1 September 2009). "Judge’s Resignation Spotlights Nominating Commission". Memphis Daily News. 
  20. ^ Leonard, Gill (29 October 2009). "D’Army Bailey: Activist, Attorney, Actor". Memphis Flyer. )
  21. ^ http://www.pulaskicitizen.com/news/Stories/110128MurderMysteryFilmingToBeSetInGCcourtroom.html
  22. ^ Deadline (2012) - IMDb
  23. ^ Cigarette Girl (2009) - IMDb
  24. ^ Nothing But the Truth (2008) - IMDb
  25. ^ Street Life (Video 2007) - IMDb
  26. ^ Forty Shades of Blue (2005) - IMDb
  27. ^ Woman's Story (2000) - IMDb
  28. ^ How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998) - IMDb
  29. ^ The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) - IMDb
  30. ^ Mystery Train (1989) - IMDb