Long-time federal district court judge from Mississippi dies

Published 9:48 pm Saturday, January 16, 2021

A long-time federal judge from Mississippi who presided over two key civil rights era cases died earlier this month at his home in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

William Henry Barbour, Jr., 79, was a graduate of Princeton University where he lettered in football and was a member of The University Cottage Club.

He graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1966, and he also attended the Graduate Tax Program at New York University School of Law.

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From his obituary:

A third-generation attorney, Judge Barbour returned home and practiced law with his father and cousins in Yazoo City until he was appointed as a judge to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. He served as Chief Judge from 1989 through 1996, took senior status in February of 2006, and retired in 2019. During his tenure with the District Court, he dutifully served his country and oversaw the construction of the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi.

Barbour ruled in the 1998 case of the ACLU v. Fordice that the state of Mississippi had to unseal the files of the State Sovereignty Commission. The commission was a state agency created to maintain racial segregation.

In 2003, Barbour presided over the case against Ernest Avants who federal prosecutors argued had killed a Natchez sharecropper, Ben Chester White, to lure the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to Natchez so they could assassinate King.

Avants was convicted some 37 years after the murder.