We have recently received an e-mail, and confirmed on the Internet, that Judge George N. Leighton, of New Bedford, has reached the age of 101. The news is especially poignant for this column as it brings back many memories of his companionship at chess tournaments, where your first named columnist and he dined together and talked chess and law. Judge Leighton has not only had a passion for chess but also was one of the first symbols of African-American success in the law, rising from abject poverty to a career that made him a prominent
lawyer and a state and federal court judge. Tim Redman, former president of the US Chess Federation, has written a long biography of Leighton and his chess adventures (www.utdallas.edu/chess/docs
Leighton was born George Neves Leitao in 1912 in New Bedford, but because his teacher could not pronounce his name, his family agreed that he could use the name Leighton. He apparently could not afford to stay in school and dropped out in the sixth grade. Nevertheless, he read widely and at 28 was accepted by Howard University. He graduated magna cum laude then served in the Army from 1942-45, rising to captain. (No wonder that we recall he stood ramrod straight.) In 1946 he transferred to Harvard Law School and earned his law degree. He practiced law until 1964. He then became the first African-American to be appointed to the
Illinois Appellate Court. President Ford later appointed him to the Federal District Court in Chicago.
Judge Leighton enunciated clearly, and perhaps this explains his success in oral arguments at the US Supreme Court, where he won a number of cases. An Illinois judge requested that he represent Mafia boss Sam Giancana in a civil rights case against the FBI. He took it on at risk to himself and won. Prior to his appointment to the federal court, he was interviewed by his prior adversary, the FBI, and cleared for the judgeship. We asked him whether he was ever considered for the US Supreme Court, He said he was, but that he was really too old to be appointed.
During his career he pursued his great interest in chess. He was just short of a Class-A player and records indicate that he played at Harvard and in 40 or more tournaments.
In the first round of the 1982 US Open, held in Chicago, he was paired as White against Leonid Kausansky, a master with a rating 580 points above Leighton’s. The game is recorded below in lieu of our weekly brevity, a tribute to a great man.
Leighton vs. Kausansky: 1.d4 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.Bd3 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.f4 Bg4 6.Nf3 c4 7.Bc2 Ne4 8.0–0 f5 9.Qe1 e6 10.Ne5 Nxe5 11.fxe5 Be7 12.Ba4+ Kf8 13.Nd2 Bh4 14.g3 Bg5 15.Kg2 Kg8 16.Nxe4 fxe4 17.Bd1 Bf5 18.h4 Be7 19.h5 h6 20.g4 Bh4 21.Qe2 Qg5 22.Kh1 Bh7 23.b3 cxb3 24.axb3 g6 25.Ba3 Kg7 26.Rf6 Rae8 27.Qb5 Rhf8 28.Bxf8+ Rxf8 29.Qd7+; 1-0
Winners: NH Queen City Tornado: 1st, Alexander Ivanov 4-0, 2d, Sherif Khater 3-1; Boylston February $5 Open: 1st, Arthur Tang 4-0, 2d-3d, Yongjoo Kim and Aashish Welling 3-1.
Coming Events: CMC Weekly, March 6, 13, 20, 27, 201 Wayland Ave., Providence, www.chess
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