Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor spoke with Fields at a 2013 conference. Photo courtesy Riley Institute at Furman University.

When retired Circuit Court Judge Richard Fields passed away on March 3 at age of 103, Charleston lost a giant in the legal community, but I lost a friend and mentor.


As a 1947 graduate of Howard University School of Law, Judge Fields was determined to be a conduit between Charleston’s Black community and a justice system that was most often not colorblind. He set up his law practice on Spring Street before America warmed up to the idea that fair and equal justice was a right to all citizens, regardless of race and gender.

Before the Civil Rights movement opened doors to Black lawyers in the South, Judge Fields was already ingrained in a legal community dominated by lawyers whose offices lined Broad Street. Veteran lawyers, protective of their traditions and customs, were curious about this young Black lawyer who seemed not at all intimidated by the local racial and judicial hierarchy.

He quickly gained their respect, and soon their admiration. Richard Fields broke down barriers not with marches and boycotts, but with undeniable brilliance, style and affable charm. Numerous lawyers and judges each have their own special story to tell about “Richard.”


Judge Fields influenced three generations of my family. When my father, Daniel Martin Sr., finished law school in 1966, Richard Fields hired him to work in his law office. As a young boy, I knew Judge Fields to be more than a friend to our family. He was a mentor to my father and a big brother to my mother, Ruby Martin. 

As the years went by, both my father and I followed Judge Fields’ judicial footprints. Before becoming Charleston’s first Black resident circuit judge, Richard Fields became the city’s first Black municipal judge and the county’s first Black family court judge. Upon his retirement, my father succeeded Judge Fields on the circuit court. Before I ran for the same family court seat he once held, I sought the wise counsel of Richard Fields. With his encouragement, I pursued and won his former seat on the family court. And in the very same solicitor’s office where my father worked in the early 1970’s, his grandson, Daniel Martin III, now works as an assistant solicitor.

In January 2019, judges elected by the South Carolina General Assembly attended an annual judicial conference in Columbia. At the conference, a presenter showed a video of an old interview of Judge Fields. For most in the room, the video was their first introduction to the man many had heard about but never had met. Minutes into the video, the room fell silent. By the end, people were crying. Lawyers and judges couldn’t believe Richard Fields excelled in a Jim Crow South Carolina. In the interview, he recalled the values instilled in him by his mother and work ethic by his father.

What Judge Fields brought to the legal profession and later to the bench is something America needs today more than ever – civility. Every new attorney is now required to take an oath of civility when admitted to the bar. Richard Fields never needed to take such an oath. He just did what his momma told him to do. And it worked out rather well.

Daniel E. Martin Jr. is a family court judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit which includes Charleston and Berkeley counties.

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