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Brooklyn Criminal Court celebrates black veterans of war for Black History Month

February 20, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Hon. L. Priscilla Hall (left) was the keynote speaker at the Black History Month ceremony at the Criminal Court in Brooklyn. Also pictured is Hon. Claudia Daniels-DePeyster, co-chair of the court's Black History Month Committee. Eagle photos by Edward King
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The Brooklyn Criminal Court celebrated “African Americans in Times of War” during its annual Black History Month celebration that was held on Friday in Downtown Brooklyn.

Hon. L. Priscilla Hall, associate justice, Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department, was honored with a plaque during the event and also its keynote speaker. Hall discussed the history of African Americans soldiers in the U.S. starting with the Militia Act of 1862, which allowed them to become soldiers for the first time.

“The Militia Act of 1862 was signed three months before the Emancipation Proclamation, but it wasn’t until after President [Abraham] Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that Frederick Douglass, the great black intellectual, became an advocate of young black men joining the Union army,” Hall said.

Even after joining the military, Hall explained, black troops were still not paid the same wages as white troops until 1864. After the war, Lincoln declared that the North would not have won without the efforts of these troops.

Hall also spoke about her uncles fighting in World War II, and her brother nearly being sent to Vietnam, where three of her cousins were sent.

“It seems to me that African Americans have been at war ever since we were seen, sold and branded with red-hot irons,” Hall said. “Brought to these shores, we’ve always had to fight to survive in this strange land called the United States of America that seems to get stranger every day.

“Battles we thought we had fought and won have to be fought again,” Hall continued. “Civil Rights we thought we had secured are being challenged by those who claim they want to make America great again.”

When Judge Ellen E. Edwards presented Hall with her plaque, she said that Hall was the first woman of color, who was also a judge,that she saw on TV in her life.

“When I was growing up, whenever we would see a person of color on TV, my aunts and uncles would call each other and say, ‘Hey there is a black person on TV,’” Edwards recalled. “Judge Hall was the first judge, who was a woman of color, that I saw on TV. She had such grace and dignity. I had no idea that I would be able to meet her and that she would be my mentor.”

Friday’s ceremony was hardly just a speech by Hall. Other speakers included Hon. Michael Yavinsky, supervising judge of the Criminal Court, Hon. Claudia DePeyster, Hon. Ellen Edwards and District Attorney Eric Gonzalez also gave brief speeches.

There was also a musical performance by Court Officer Gregory McCann, who played saxophone accompanied by Satish Robertson on trumpet. Court Officer Cassandra Allen and DePeyster each gave a singing performance as well.

Mixed in throughout the speeches were three skits performed by court employees led by Erica Gilchrist. The group depicted the military contributions of both African American men and women throughout the United States’ history.

“Today there are many African Americans in the military, all branches, playing all different roles — we honor you,” Gilchrist said. “We honor those of you who have family members who are veterans. We honor all of those who came before us and fought. “

“Everybody involved takes great pride in hosting this event every year,” Yavinsky said. “This whole process is collaboration among the court, the DA’s Office, the defense bar, the judicial staff and non-judicial staff.”


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