William Glenn Terrell

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William Glenn Terrell (July 24, 1878 – January 12, 1964) was a Justice of the Florida Supreme Court from 1923 to 1964. During the time of his tenure on the Florida Supreme Court, he served as Associate Justice and as Chief Justice. His 41-year tenure was the longest of any judge on that body. He was succeeded on the Court by Richard W. Ervin.

Early life and education[edit]

William Glenn Terrell was born in Daleville, Mississippi on July 24, 1878. In the 1880s, he moved from Daleville to Bushnell, Sumter County, Florida, north of Tampa, with his parents, Rev. William Henry Terrell and Lizzie Crawford Terrell. His father was the pastor of the original Bushnell Presbyterian Church, while his mother taught children in her home and then at the first school there.[1]

Glenn Terrell began teaching when a young man and went to college to further his preparation as a teacher. He studied at Jasper Normal Institute in Jasper, Florida, and Georgia Normal College and Business Institute in Abbeville, Georgia.[2]

In 1903, when he was about 25, Glenn Terrell earned his law degree, an LL.B., from Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee. Over the years, he also studied or took professional courses at the University of Florida, Harvard University and the University of Chicago.[3]


In 1903, Terrell was admitted to the Bar of Florida[4] and entered private practice in Sumter County, Florida. From 1910 to 1913, he represented Sumter County in the Florida House of Representatives, then served in the Florida Senate from 1915 to 1917.

In 1923, he was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court. He began service May 15, 1923 and continued until January 12, 1964.[5] He served several terms as Chief Justice during his tenure, the longest on record.[6]

In State of Florida ex. rel. Virgil D. Hawkins, Relator v. Board of Control, 93 So. 2d 354 (Fla. 1957), Chief Justice Terrell wrote that he apparently considered Adolf Hitler a more honorable authority than the United States Supreme Court, and systems where groups of people were enslaved, denied freedom or discriminated against on the basis of race or origin as admirable, saying:

"Some anthropologists and historians much better informed than I am point out that segregation is as old as the hills. The Egyptians practiced it on the Israelites; the Greeks did likewise for the barbarians; the Romans segregated the Syrians; the Chinese segregated all foreigners; segregation is said to have produced the caste system in India and Hitler practiced it in his Germany, but no one ever discovered that it was in violation of due process until recently and to do so some of the same historians point out that the Supreme Court abandoned the Constitution."

At the same time, he was unafraid of writing detailed opinions condemning inequality experienced by Florida's African-American citizens. When, in Cacciatore v. State, 49 So.2d 588 (Fla. 1950), the full Supreme Court of Florida reversed a criminal defendant's conviction without explaining why, an apparently frustrated Justice Terrell went out of his way to pen the following (and only) special concurrence to the decision:

I concur in the order of reversal but I think it unfortunate that it fails to discuss the questions raised, particularly the charge that discrimination was practiced on the Negro juror during the trial. The major portion of appellant's brief is devoted to this point. The record shows that there was confusion as to the applicable law and I think we are on notice that the trial courts will be confronted with the question in the future. When this is the case it should be adjudicated in order that the error may not again recur. The law requires the jury to "sit together" and hear the pleadings, proof and other aspects of the trial. The court in his discretion, may order the jury placed in charge of a bailiff to keep them together and see that no one from the outside communicates with them. When this is done the bailiff is required to make provision for their meals and lodging during the trial.
It is not denied that the jury sat together and heard the pleadings, proof and charge of the Court but it is contended that they were separated when provision was made for lodging, in that they were required to sleep in separate rooms and that when meals were provided the Negro juror was required to eat in a "cubbyhole" separated from the dining room where the white jurors ate. I do not think the fact that the jury slept in separate or adjoining rooms with a door open between them, as the record shows, violated the requirement that they be kept together during the trial. The purpose of this requirement is to remove the danger of outside communication with the jury or any member of it and the number of rooms they occupy is not material so long as they are under the supervision of the bailiff and are not communicated with. The task imposed on the bailiff is to treat all jurors alike, keep them together and exercise such supervision over them as to prevent outside communication with them.
As to the charge that the Negro juror was required to eat in a "cubbyhole" separated from the dining room where the white jurors ate, it is pertinent to point out that the alleged "cubbyhole" was a corner or sector of the dining room. It was created by setting up a buffet to isolate the Negro juror from the white jurors and others who might be in the dining room at the time. I find nothing in the record that convinces me that this procedure affected the verdict in this case, but I think it was bad practice and in many instances might have a serious effect on the verdict. Whether or not it does so would depend on the Negro juror's intelligence and emotional reaction. If he is stupid and untutored such discrimination would likely make no difference, if he is intelligent enough to be a competent juror it would make plenty of difference.
There are practical considerations that will confront the bailiff in every community where he meets this question. If the county has made no provision for such a contingency, I think he can do so within the law by providing such dining and lodging facilities as will enable him to keep supervision over the jury and prevent outside communication with it. I do not think the Negro juror should be required to eat in anything that savors of a "cubbyhole", neither should he be placed in an environment that in any manner tends to humiliate or otherwise subtract from the place of importance his station as a juror clothes him with. Serving on a jury is a civil responsibility that the law imposes on white and colored alike so we are concerned here only with the law regulating such service. The law of segregation as defined in this State is in no way involved. Segregation in Florida is in the main concerned with separate schools for whites and coloreds and the prohibition of intermarriage between members of the two races. [**6] Social taboos are in another category, but neither has any more place in this case than Newton's law of gravitation.
The verdict of a jury is the composite judgment of six good and true men as to which party to the controversy offered the more convincing legal proof. I have serious doubt of its being a composite judgment if the Negro juror is isolated during part of the trial in such a way as to arouse personal resentment at his treatment. In fact, I doubt that the weight of his judgment contributed anything to the verdict under such restraint. The very gist of our constitutional tradition is equality before the law, trial by jury, the worth and freedom of the individual and justice by due process of law. To insinuate taboos in the trial of a case that are calculated to arouse racial or emotional resentment is contrary to every concept of fair trial and may destroy confidence in that phase of the administration of justice.
In this country jury duty is one of the many aspects in which democracy works. Making democracy work is the business of every citizen. It is not partial to any race, creed or color because all have had a part in its creation. In respect to [**7] the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, the state and Federal constitutions make no distinction between white and colored citizens. Every racial and religious group that came to this country has contributed greatly to the stability, vigor and effectiveness of the freedoms that constitute democracy. We should be the last to embarrass or discriminate against any of them in the performance of jury duty. Unless it be tinkering with the ballot, corrupting a jury's verdict is the surest may I know to destroy confidence in democratic processes.
As for the Negro juror he has a claim for fair treatment peculiar to himself. He was not indigenous to this country, neither did he come here voluntarily. He was yanked out of Africa by the white man and brought here against his will. The early ancestors of the present Negroes were here breaking new ground and ploughing tobacco and cotton when the Mayflower landed at Plymouth. The first white men they ever saw were the ones that shackled and brought them to this country. They were pagans, unschooled in moral precepts. Their belief in God, their language, their morals and their religion were imbibed from the white man. The seed of [**8] their vices and virtues were sown by the white man. Every phase of his culture is a product of the white man's teaching. He has hewn his share of wood and he has drawn his share of water. He spent 250 years as the white man's slave, he was manumitted 87 years ago and has excelled in many lines of endeavor. Some of them were revolutionary soldiers and they have played a part in every war this country has been engaged in. History records that the first man killed in the revolution was a Negro. I think he has established his right to sing the Star Spangled Banner, to claim this as his country and feel a just pride in the performance of every civic duty the law imposes on him.
In fine, the question sums up to this: The law in explicit terms prohibits discrimination, on racial grounds, in the selection of a jury. The law also requires that when a jury is selected every precaution shall be observed to aid it in reaching a fair and lawful verdict. The Court may designate a bailiff to see that such precautions are observed. When the jury is composed of whites and Negroes all should be treated alike but this does not mean that they must be fed from the same table or required to sleep in the same room. The bailiff may exercise a reasonable discretion in this and may fit that discretion to the circumstances with which he is confronted but in doing so he is not permitted to impose conditions on a Negro juror that tend to humiliate or embarrass him or that in any wise detract from his responsibility as a juror. His concern is that everything be done to encourage a righteous verdict and that nothing be done to impede it.
I therefore concur in the judgment.


In May 1962, Justice Terrell was honored several times. Cumberland University awarded him a citation as "An outstanding citizen, an Honored and Revered Member of the Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court," and Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.[3]

At his death in 1964, he was remembered by legal colleagues: "On Sunday, January 12, the lawyers of Florida lost a warm and devoted friend - Justice Glenn Terrell of the Supreme Court of Florida. The law was his life and he gave unstintingly of his time, talent and energy for the cause of justice and the improvement of our profession." [7]

On May 17, 1982, an Oral History Dinner remembering the contributions of Justice William Glenn Terrell was held as part of an initiative sponsored by Florida Governor Bob Graham.,[8][9] In addition, the American Inn of Court in Tampa, Florida was named for Justice William Glenn Terrell.


William Glenn Terrell married Esther Collins on December 24, 1907.[10][11] Their children were Miriam, Doris, Ruth, and William Glenn Terrell Jr.[10] Both men were usually called Glenn, but are recorded as W. Glenn Terrell Sr. and W. Glenn Terrell Jr. in various documents. The father also was recorded as William Glenn Terrell in some materials, but the son rarely so. The son (1920-2013) was the president of Washington State University in Pullman for 18 years, from 1967 to 1985.

Terrell was a fourth generation great-grandson of William and Susannah (Waters) Terrell.[10] As a result, he is distantly related to both Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter.[12]


  1. ^ Beginnings of Bushnell Elementary School
  2. ^ [The Florida handbook by Allen Covington Morris, Peninsular Pub. Co., 1959]
  3. ^ a b Justice Glenn Terrell Collection, Florida State University
  4. ^ [The Florida Bar journal, Volume 33, 1959]
  5. ^ Succession of Justices of the Supreme Court of Florida
  6. ^ "Glenn Terrell Named State Chief Justice", St. Petersburg Times (January 11, 1939), p. 2.
  7. ^ [The Florida Bar journal, Volume 38, 1964]
  8. ^ In the First Person: Florida Governor Oral History Program Files
  9. ^ Florida's Political Past: A Guide to Manuscript Collections
  10. ^ a b c Dicken, Emma. Terrell Genealogy. San Antonio, Texas: The Naylor Company. pp. 116–117. He married Esther Collins, of Webster, Florida, 24 Dec. 1907 
  11. ^ Terrill, Terrell, Tyrell Lines
  12. ^ Reitwiesner, William Addams. "Ancestry of Barack Obama". William Addams Reitwiesner Genealogical Services. Washington, DC. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 

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