Retired Judge James H. Taylor, who spent 18 years on Prince George's County Circuit Court bench, says he does not often reflect on his youth and the massive changes he has seen and helped to forge in the state during his active career.
But in a recent interview in his office, he took time to remember many of his milestones: walking through the Howard County countryside each day to catch a train to Baltimore, which had the closest high school for black students; receiving a degree from American University's school of law in 1953 in the first class to graduate blacks; joining the Prince George's state's attorney's office in the early 1960s when blacks were prohibited from eating lunch at the county courthouse, and being selected as the county's first black judge in 1969.
And now he is working as an independent consultant to County Executive Parris Glendening to help minority-owned businesses in the county get in touch with developers so that they, too, can profit from the growth.
Taylor, 61, left the bench Oct. 31 for private practice. He said he accepted Glendening's job offer because he sees it as a way to help change the face of Prince George's, which officials say is 46 percent black, and because he believes minorities have not always been included in county programs.
"I'm black; how can I not believe that. I've lived it," he said in his slow-speaking manner with a twinge of a Southern accent.
Racist attitudes toward Taylor were not always overt, but when they were, Taylor said, he shrugged them off as learning experiences and went on to conquer milestones in areas that had been previously dominated by white men.
"I guess that's the kind of guy I am. I'm not the kind of guy who blows up when something is said," Taylor said.
Today, Taylor attributes much of his success to his ability to get along with all people.
"I've been told I'm a sociable person, and I don't dispute that. I like talking to folk, and I like being with folk," he said.
Prince George's State's Attorney Alex Williams, who was a law clerk for Taylor from 1973 to 1974, recalled being one of few blacks working in the courthouse when racism was apparent but subtle.
"His ability to remain calm and compassionate had a tremendous impact on my career," Williams said.
Taylor grew up in the Elkridge section of Howard County off Rte. 1. It was in this predominantly black neighborhood that he decided to become a lawyer.
Taylor was 13 when he heard about a black lawyer named Fitzgerald who lived near the Taylor family home. He said he was fascinated by the life style Fitzgerald's profession afforded him and the mansion where he lived and entertained friends.
"I never saw any of the parties, but I heard about them and I knew then that that was the type of life style I wanted for myself," he said.
As a teen-ager he walked long distances through muddy corn fields to the railroad station and the train that carried him to school in Baltimore.
The daily trip was often agonizing for Taylor, who wore a pair of tattered shoes when he walked to the railroad station and carried a pair of dress shoes to change into the minute he arrived in Baltimore.
"I had to change my shoes or the city boys would call me country, and I hated that. They were already calling me country because I wore knickerbockers and they wore long pants," he said, laughing from his Landover office.
He went on to graduate from high school and Howard University before enrolling at American University's law school.
Upon graduation, Taylor continued his work as a citizenship examiner at the State Department in Washington until 1957, when he left for Fairmont Heights and his own law practice representing the county's black incorporated communities.
He continued to practice noncriminal law after he was appointed assistant state's attorney, where colleagues said he was considered a gutsy prosecutor.
Arthur A. (Bud) Marshall, a former state's attorney who hired Taylor for that office, said he considers Taylor a close friend since they met more than 20 years ago. The two men met when they applied for the same county assistant state's attorney position.
"We were both turned down, and I got to know Jimmy and thought he was a very fine lawyer and more experienced than I," Marshall said.
In 1963 Marshall was named county state's attorney. He hired Taylor, and in addition to their county government work they set out to change attitudes toward blacks in the county.
"I think the prejudice toward blacks was especially prevalent in the courthouse, and I think Jimmy played a part in getting rid of some of those attitudes," Marshall said.
Taylor said he has seen how the county has changed since the days when he was prohibited from eating in the county courthouse.
"In those days we either had to brown bag it or eat in a local pool hall and bar," he said.
Prince George's District Court Judge Vincent J. Femia said one incident in particular started the push to rid the county seat of racism. The incident had Marshall and Femia dragging Taylor to a now-defunct Upper Marlboro restaurant for lunch.
"The waitress turned to look at us and said, 'I knew (integration) was coming -- I just didn't know you were bringing it,' " Femia said.
In 1966 Taylor was named master for juvenile causes for Prince George's County, and in 1969 he was appointed a judge. There he was sometimes criticized for being too compassionate, as in the case where he sentenced 34-year-old Patsy Ann Hoover to 15 weekends in jail after she was convicted of drunken driving and manslaughter in an accident that killed a 4-year-old girl.
Taylor said although he has worked in different areas of law, he said it was working in the juvenile court system that stuck with him most.
"If you tell someone he is being punished, he can relate to that, especially when you're dealing with the younger person," Taylor said.
Since his retirement, Taylor said, he has had time to reflect on his career, and his foremost conclusion is that he prefers being a private lawyer than a judge.
"Being a judge had its place, but I like being a lawyer better. This way I get to call my own shots instead of calling shots that others set up for me."