Oral History of Bernice B. Donald

Hon. Bernice Donald is a Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She was nominated to that position by President Barack Obama and was confirmed by a vote in the Senate on September 6, 2011. Prior to that, Judge Donald sat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. She was appointed to the district court by President William Jefferson Clinton in December 1995. She was sworn into office in January 1996. She previously served as Judge of U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Tennessee, becoming the first African American woman in the history of the United States to serve as a bankruptcy judge. In 1982, she was elected to the General Sessions Criminal Court, where she became the first African American woman to serve as a judge in the history of the State of Tennessee. She received her law degree from the University of Memphis School of Law where she has served as an adjunct faculty member. She also serves as faculty for the Federal Judicial Center and the National Judicial College. In 1996, Chief Justice Rehnquist appointed Judge Donald to the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules where she served for six years. She is extremely active in the American, Tennessee, and Memphis Bar Associations, serving in vital leadership roles in key committees. She currently serves as Secretary of the 430,000 member American Bar Association.

Judge Donald has served as faculty for numerous international programs, including Romania, Turkey, Brazil, and Russia. Judge Donald lectured in various Republics of the former Soviet Union, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Kazan, Moscow, and Kransnador. In 2003, Judge Donald led a People to People delegation to Johannesburg, and Capetown, South Africa. In June 2003, Judge Donald traveled to Zimbabwe to monitor the trial of a judge accused of judicial misconduct.

Judge Donald has served as President of the National Association of Women Judges and the Association of Women Attorneys. She has chaired the Memphis Diversity Institute and the Commission on Opportunities for Minorities in the legal profession. She currently works with Leadership Memphis to provide leadership training for Memphis Housing Authority residents. And in June 2003, Judge Donald co-founded 4-Life, and skills training and enrichment program for students 6 - 15 designed to teach children to become positive productive citizens. Judge Donald is a member of ZETA PHI BETA Sorority.

Judge Donald has been the recipient of over 100 awards for professional, civic, and community activities, including the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Memphis, the Martin Luther King Community Service Award, and the Benjamin Hooks Award presented in 2002 by the Memphis Bar Foundation.

Judge Donald is married to W. L. Donald, and is the daughter of Mrs. Willie Bell Bowie and the deceased Perry Bowie. Judge Donald is a member of Greater Middle Baptist Church, pastored by Reverend Robert Mason.

Her motto is: Each day is a gift from God —the service that we render is our gift to God.

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Bernice Bouie Donald, A.B.A.: Previous Margaret Brent Women Law. Achievement Award Recipients, See video of introduction and acceptance speech.