Larry W. Baraka, a pioneering jurist whose life traced a path from his childhood in the St. Louis housing projects to prominence as the first Black district judge ever elected in Dallas County, died Monday. He was 71.
Baraka’s death was confirmed by his widow, Belinda, who said he died after an extended illness.
Baraka was born Larry Wallace and grew up in the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. In a 1990 D Magazine profile, he described the neighborhood as a “human garbage dump,” where “crime and drugs and murder were just part of life.”
“Almost every time I went outside, I would get in a [fight],” Baraka said in the profile. “Other kids resented me because I wouldn’t join their gangs or go out and steal with them. There were some things I just wasn’t going to do no matter how many times people beat me up.”
Baraka attended Cornell College in Iowa before enrolling at the University of Houston to study law. After graduating, he was offered a job as an assistant prosecutor by then-Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade.
Quickly made his mark
Baraka quickly broke ground under Wade, becoming the county’s first Black felony prosecutor in 1978. He also worked in private practice as a defense attorney before successfully running for the Criminal District Court 2 judicial seat.
His ascension served as inspiration for up-and-coming Black lawyers in Dallas County. Several of the most prominent said Baraka helped shape or inspire their careers.
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SOURCE: The Dallas Morning News, Michael Williams