Brad Kutrow wrote an online opinion article for the April 20, 2021, issue ofThe Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer about U.S. District Judge James B. McMillan,
a former McGuireWoods partner who established himself in the Charlotte
community and became a “precedent-setting champion of racial equity.”
Kutrow’s op-ed, “In North Carolina, an unlikely champion of equity, 50 years ago,” chronicled McMillan’s personal and professional journey to become the
judge who ordered the desegregation of the Charlotte public school system.
So unpopular was McMillan’s decision that community opponents picketed the
courthouse and his home, sent him death threats and ostracized him. Still,
in April 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld McMillan’s
decision in the landmark case Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education and, by
extension, his endorsement of busing to alleviate racial inequity in
“Why was McMillan — perhaps more boldly than any other southern judge —
able to set aside his preconceptions, listen to evidence and arguments with
an open mind, and order a controversial remedy for past segregation?”
Kutrow wrote. In answer, his article delved into McMillan’s role models and
his modest upbringing in the 1920s on a sharecrop farm during
a no-money economy, where everyone worked and played together, regardless
After earning his law degree from Harvard and serving in World War II,
McMillan joined McGuireWoods predecessor firm Helms & Mulliss and
became a successful trial lawyer. “Juries loved him,” Kutrow wrote.
“Opponents said trying a case against McMillan was like trying a case
against a Boy Scout.” When nominated to become a judge, McMillan chose
public service over that successful practice and made history by upholding
his oath to “do equal right” to all.