Charisse Lillie ’74, an attorney, member of the business community, and a lecturer on issues of diversity and corporate responsibility, will receive the A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award during the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) Minority Attorney Conference, “Advocacy and Fundamental Rights for Changing Times.”
The award recognizes her accomplishments and dedication to the legal profession and the minority community through civil, community or legal service. Now the CEO of CRL Consulting LLC, she recently retired from Comcast Corporation, where she held senior-level positions. Higginbotham, who died in 1998, was a civic leader, author, academic and federal appeals court judge active in efforts eliminate racial discrimination. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from Wesleyan in 1996, delivering the Commencement address that year. He had also delivered Wesleyan’s Hugo L. Black Lecture in 1991, an annual series endowed by Leonard S. Halpert ’44.
Lillie was a history and government major at Wesleyan who earned her degree with honors. She recalls that she first met Higginbotham in 1972 when she was writing a political science paper in an independent study with Professor Clement Vose, Wesleyan’s John E. Andrus Professor of Government and a scholar of constitutional law, who died in 1985.
The paper, she recalled, “was a political science study of the selection process of all federal judges, with an emphasis on the career paths of African-American federal judges.
“Professor Vose and I had several theories on whether or not it was different or the same for the African-American judicial officials, who numbered about 10 at the time. After reading the first draft of my paper—for which I did extensive research—Professor Vose told me it was a great draft, but he urged me to reach out to the federal judges and interview them in person. I thought it was the craziest idea I had ever heard.
“But I wrote letters to all the judges, and all of them except one agreed to make the time to allow me—a junior from Wesleyan—to come into their chambers, ask them 25 questions about their paths to the bench, and create a monograph on the selection process of African-American federal judges in the United States.
“Judge Higginbotham was one of these, and he became a lifelong mentor, even writing a letter of recommendation for my admission to the LL.M. Program at Yale Law School.
“One of the highlights of my legal career was that Judge Higginbotham cited my Wesleyan paper in an opinion he wrote when defendants asked him to recuse himself because of his strong political views, which had been expressed in a number of scholarly articles, speeches and books.”
Lillie received a J.D. from Temple University School of Law in 1976 and an L.LM. from Yale Law School in 1982. She was awarded honorary doctor of laws degrees from Seton Hill University and Cheyney University, as well as an honorary doctor of humane letters from Peirce College. Wesleyan named her a Distinguished Alumna in 1993.
She was the first African-American woman to serve as city solicitor of the city of Philadelphia, as well as to chair the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia Board and the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association. Lillie has also been involved in many civic commissions.
She adds. “While at Temple Law School, I worked as a summer intern on Judge Higginbotham’s first book, In the Matter of Color. I am very proud to receive this honor in the Judge’s name.”