Richard Rives

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Richard Rives
Judge of United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
In office
Nominated by Harry S Truman
Personal details
Born January 15, 1895
Montgomery, Alabama
Died October 27, 1982
Montgomery, Alabama

Richard Taylor Rives (January 15, 1895–October 27, 1982) was an American lawyer and judge.[1] A native of Alabama, he was the sole Democrat among the "Fifth Circuit Four," four judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the 1950s and 1960s that issued a series of decisions crucial in advancing the civil and political rights of African-Americans.[2] At that time, the Fifth Circuit included not only Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas (its current jurisdiction), but also Alabama, Georgia, and Florida (which were subsequently split off into the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit), and the Panama Canal Zone.

Early and family life[edit]

Born in Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama on January 15, 1895, to William Henry Rives (1854-1922) and his wife, the former Alice Bloodworth Taylor (1856-1943), Rives had five siblings. A maternal great-great-grandfather had served as the first Baptist minister in Montgomery. Three of his great-great-great-great grandfathers had served in the American Revolutionary War: Captain William Sanford (1734-1806) had carried dispatches to France before settling in Georgia, Major John Mason (1716-1785) had acted as Justice of Sussex County, Virginia during that time, and Private James McLemore (1718-1800) had also served the Revolutionary cause in Granville County, North Carolina.[3] Both sides of his family had operated large plantations using enslaved labor before the American Civil War.[4]

Richard Rives attended the public high school in Montgomery and graduated as valedictorian of his class. He then won a tuition scholarship and began studies at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. However, Rives also had to borrow money for living expenses from his sister, so he withdrew from the university after a year and began working for Wiley Hill, an attorney practicing in Montgomery whose family plantation had shared a border with the Rives' plantation before the American Civil War. Judge Rives would later receive honorary degrees from the University of Notre Dame in 1966 and Stanford University in 1975.[5]

Early career, military service and family life[edit]

After reading law, Rives passed the Alabama bar examination in 1914, although just 19 years old. He was in private practice in Montgomery, Alabama from 1914 to 1916.

During World War I, Rives joined the Alabama National Guard, then served in the U.S. Army (1916 to 1919; commissioned a first lieutenant in 1917).

While stationed in Macon, Georgia, Rives met Jessie H. Daugherty. They married soon after he left the Army, and would have four children, although two died as infants.[4] Rives's relationship with his son and namesake Richard Rives Jr. (1922-1949) would later greatly affect his attitudes toward racial discrimination. His son had attended the University of Exeter in England and Harvard University in Massachusetts, then become severely ill while serving in the Pacific theater during World War II. Based on his own reading and discussions with African American soldiers hospitalized with him, the younger Rives determined to confront issues involved in what many Southerners called "the race question." He also went to the University of Michigan Law school, advised his father to read Gunnar Myrdal's treatise and planned to join the family law firm, but died in an auto accident in 1949. After his wife's death in 1973, Rives in 1976 married Martha Blake Thigpen Frazer, but they had no children.[4]


In 1919 Rives returned to private practice in Montgomery after his World War I service, and became involved in politics and the Democratic Party during the New Deal. He directed the 1942 gubernatorial campaign of Bibb Graves, who died before the election.[4]

Rives served as president of both the Montgomery County and state bar associations. In 1951, he successfully appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Alabama Public Service Commission, and the court reversed a lower federal court's ruling that had allowed the Southern Railway Company to discontinue much local service in the state, deciding such was a state rather than federal matter.[4]

He was a close friend of U.S. Senator then Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, as well as of Alabama Senators John Sparkman and Lister Hill.[4]

Federal Judge[edit]

President Harry S. Truman nominated Rives to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on April 12, 1951, to the seat vacated by Leon Clarence McCord. Confirmed by the Senate on May 1, 1951, Rives received his commission three days later, and was sworn in. The court supervised federal district judges in six southern states. By the time of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings concerning desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education, the other judges had all been appointed by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower: Elbert P. Tuttle of Atlanta, Georgia, John Minor Wisdom of New Orleans, Louisiana, and John R. Brown of Houston, Texas. All shared a quiet passion against injustice.[5]

Judge Rives served as chief judge from 1959 to 1960 and assumed senior status on February 15, 1966. He and his colleagues became actively involved in racial desegregation after state officials became involved in Massive Resistance. He also became involved in cases concerning bus desegregation, legislative redistricting and jury selection.[4]

He was reassigned to the Eleventh Circuit on October 1, 1981, when that court was created. He remained on the court on senior status until his death in Montgomery in 1982.

Death and legacy[edit]

Rives died at home in Montgomery, age 87 on October 27, 1982 after a long illness.[5] He was survived by his second wife, daughter Callie Rives Smith of Louisville, Kentucky, and three granddaughters, and buried in Montgomery's Greenwood Cemetery.[6]

His granddaughter, U.S. District Judge Callie V. Granade, of the Southern District of Alabama. Granade struck down Alabama's prohibition on same-sex marriage, a decision eventually affirmed by the United States Supreme Court.[7][8][9]


  1. ^ FJC Bio no 2019
  2. ^ Jack Bass, "The 'Fifth Circuit Four'", The Nation, May 3, 2004, p. 30-32.
  3. ^ Sons of American Revolution application of Thom Christopher Rives in 1941
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Richard T. Rives - Encyclopedia of Alabama". Encyclopedia of Alabama. 
  5. ^ a b c "Richard T. Rives, Judge on Court That Helped Integrate the South". 30 October 1982 – via 
  6. ^ "Judge Richard Taylor Rives (1895-1982) - Find A..." 
  7. ^ Kirby, Brendan (January 23, 2015). "Federal judge strikes down Alabama's same-sex marriage ban". Retrieved April 28, 2017. 
  8. ^ "Same-sex marriage to begin in Alabama as federal court affirms end of ban". The Guardian (UK). February 3, 2015. Retrieved April 27, 2017. 
  9. ^ de Vogue, Ariane; Diamond, Jeremy (June 27, 2015). "Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide". CNN. Retrieved April 27, 2017. 

See also[edit]

Jack Bass, Unlikely Heroes Tuscaloosa, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1981.

Legal offices
Preceded by
Leon Clarence McCord
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Succeeded by
John Cooper Godbold