Suffolk judges and lawyers on Friday honored the county's first black judge, a trailblazer who few have managed to follow so far.
Former state Supreme Court Justice Marquette Floyd, 83, was the first black Suffolk District Court judge in 1969 and, 20 years later, was the county's first black state Supreme Court justice. A decade after he retired, he remains the county's sole black justice.
After a ceremony in Central Islip that was equal parts thankful, respectful and affectionate, the courts, the Suffolk County Bar Association and the Amistad Long Island Black Bar Association unveiled a portrait of Floyd that will hang in Riverhead.
Floyd told a crowd of about 200 judges, lawyers and court officials that his grandmother told him the middle class runs society, and as a youth in segregated South Carolina, he took that to heart. "The middle class is a drive to be part of the system," Floyd said. "It's a drive to fight your way into the system when it's trying to exclude you. The middle class is first class, and I'm proud to be a part of it."
"The judges of color in this county stand on the shoulders of those who went before us, and Justice Floyd is one of them," said William Ford, one of three black Suffolk District Court judges. "Judge Floyd, I'm happy -- privileged -- to stand on your shoulders, sir."
Retired court officer Harold Dickey said Floyd was a mentor to all blacks working in the courts, not just lawyers. He said Floyd looked out for him and other minorities in the courthouse. "I always felt a lot of pride seeing him on the bench, knowing him and being able to talk to him," Dickey said. "Judge, I want to thank you for being a role model. I'm just proud of you today."
Other colleagues said Floyd set the bar high for everyone. Retired Justice Robert W. Doyle, who used to assign civil cases to colleagues in Suffolk, said he sent plenty of cases and attorneys to Floyd. "And I never got a gripe from any of the lawyers I assigned to that part," he said.