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Portrait of the Honorable Leonard L. Williams Unveiled at Courthouse Bearing His Name

May 17, 2024

On Thursday, May 16, 2024, the Delaware Judiciary unveiled a portrait of the Honorable Leonard L. Williams at the state courthouse in Wilmington, now named in his honor. This event marks the final touch in renaming the facility to the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center.

The 40″ by 50″ portrait, along with the original architect’s model of the court building and a plaque detailing Judge Williams’ life and achievements, is now displayed in an alcove along the main hallway of the Justice Center. Positioned just past the security entrance and information desk, it will be viewed by over a million visitors annually.

Judge Williams (1934-2013), a Wilmington native, was a graduate of Howard High School and the University of Delaware, where he became the first African American to play football for the Blue Hens. He earned his law degree from Georgetown University School of Law and returned to Delaware in 1959 as the fifth African American admitted to the Delaware Bar. As an attorney, he worked with Louis Redding, the state’s first African American lawyer, on landmark civil rights cases. Judge Williams served as an Assistant City Solicitor in Wilmington and the chief prosecuting attorney for the Wilmington Municipal Court before being appointed to the bench in 1966, becoming the second African American judge in Delaware. He served for 32 years, retiring in 1998, the same year the Municipal Court was merged into the state Court of Common Pleas.

The unveiling ceremony was attended by members of the Williams family and featured remarks from Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz, Jr., Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, former Wilmington City Councilman Sam Guy, former Superior Court Judge Charles H. Toliver IV, Judge Williams’ daughter Dena Williams, Superior Court Judge Kathleen M. Miller, and Family Court Judge Arlene Minus Coppadge.

The effort to place a portrait of Judge Williams in the courthouse was led by Judge Miller and Judge Coppadge. Judge Miller, then a member of the Chief Justice’s Bench and Bar Diversity Initiative Steering Committee, noticed that while the building was renamed for Williams in 2016, many visitors might not know who he was or why the building bears his name. Collaborating with Judge Coppadge and the Delaware State Bar Association’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, they garnered support to commission a portrait to educate visitors about Judge Williams’ legacy.

The city of Wilmington funded the portrait, painted by Philadelphia artist David Larned, known for his portraits of judges and elected officials, including President George H.W. Bush and several Delaware governors. “Although I never met Judge Williams, it’s an honor to be connected to such a beloved public servant and civil rights pioneer through this portrait,” Larned said. “I hope it serves to remind visitors of his monumental legacy and inspire them to continue his work.”

Judge Miller emphasized the importance of placing the portrait prominently to ensure visitors understand the significance of the building’s name. Judge Coppadge, who began her legal career working with Judge Williams, expressed her personal connection to the project. “Judge Williams hired me for my first job out of law school. I learned so much under his guidance. He was a giant in the legal community, always willing to teach and mentor young lawyers.”

Judge Coppadge also thanked Mayor Purzycki and his chief of staff Tanya Washington for securing the funding. “Placing this portrait in the Justice Center is one of the highest honors of my life and legal career,” she said. “I started my career in Leonard L. Williams’ law office, and I will end it in the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center.”