Bucks County Herald

Ceremony honors Bucks’ African-American judge

Portrait unveiled at Bar Association headquarters


Judge Waite with his portrait by Barbara Lewis.

Prominent attorneys, judges, politicians, business leaders, journalists, historians and family were among those who packed the Bucks County Bar Association Friday evening to honor the career and legacy of the Hon. Clyde W. Waite, Bucks County’s first African-American judge.

Organized by the African American Museum of Bucks County in conjunction with the Doylestown Historical Society, the evening’s centerpiece event included the unveiling of a portrait of Waite by artist Barbara Lewis.

“This is the happiest moment of my professional life,” said Waite. “I hope the community feels that I have left a positive image of what an African-American judge can be.”

There is no doubt that the now 73-year-old senior judge has achieved that positive legacy, organizers and attendees said.

Linda Salley, board president and executive director of the African American Museum of Bucks County, said it is important to honor leaders like Waite – African-Americans with roots and ties to Bucks County whose legacies are in danger of being lost to history because they are not taught to younger generations.
Honoring Waite, and others, is essential to helping preserve that history, which is a core mission of the museum.

“Judge Waite is a role model to our African American youth and adults,” said Salley. “By honoring Judge Waite, we are bringing awareness to our hidden figures.”

Still, as Salley pointed out, Waite’s story isn’t just African-American history, but American history -- a story that is relevant to everyone.

Waite’s journey began in economically depressed McKeesport as the industrial economy was grinding to a rusty halt. With dreams of a better life, Waite got himself out of McKeeesport to Washington, D.C., and enrolled in Howard University.

While at university in the 1960s, he took time away from school to volunteer with the civil rights movement, working in Alabama to register African-American voters. It was, literally, work that nearly claimed his life.

“On one memorable morning,” Waite said in an interview, “our pickup truck was run off the road by an Alabama state trooper. The morning dew on the grassy embankment caused our truck to capsize and slide down the embankment upside down. We had four people in the cab of the truck and I was in the bed of the truck in a sleeping bag with the bag zipped up to my neck. When the truck capsized, I was trapped under the truck as it slid down the embankment while my arms were restricted inside the sleeping bag. At the same time, I was very fortunate not to suffer any injuries being protected in the sleeping bag while at the same time being in the cavity of the truck bed.”

Waite survived the ordeal, thanks in part to being insulated by the sleeping bag, though the trooper arrested one of his fellow volunteers. In fact, not only did Waite survive, he persisted in his civil rights work.

Indeed, calm, relentless persistence would define Waite’s actions throughout the rest of his life. Along with a gifted sharp mind and good heart, that persistence is what helped propel him to graduate cum laude from Howard University and to graduate from Yale Law School.

It was part of what fueled his “firsts” – first African-American attorney admitted to practice in Bucks County, first African-American to be appointed to the Bucks County Bar Association Board of Directors, and first African-American judge in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas, a job that he has relished since embarking upon it in 2004.

“As a judge, you first have to impress upon the litigants to be honest in their presentations and to listen carefully to what is presented,” said Waite. “To listen is to hear both what is being said and what is intended by what is being said. We must judge the case with both head and heart while recognizing that our job is limited to applying the law as passed by the Legislature.”

Since beginning his legal career in the early 1970s, Waite has practiced in many areas of the law. His name is in the title of the law firm he served with for decades – Stief, Waite, Gross, Sagoskin & Gilman.

And, he’s even the founder of a real estate firm – Clyde W. Waite Real Estate.

Nonetheless, Waite’s story is about more than personal success. It’s about how he has used his talents to help others.

In a telling example, he once put his own house up as collateral while serving as Bristol Township solicitor so that a loan could be obtained to develop jobs for residents of public housing. In recognition, Bristol Township named a street for him – Clyde W. Waite Drive.

In addition, Waite has served a host of community organizations, including on the board of directors at St. Mary Medical Center, Bucks County Legal Aid Society, the Aldie Foundation, and the Lower Bucks County Family YMCA.

“To know some of the things he has been through and to see how he made it through the struggle to rise to where he is, you just have to respect and admire him for being a person of such high caliber,” said Morris Corsey, who along with his wife Shirley Lee-Corsey, is connected to the African American Museum of Bucks County.

“He’s one of the heroes who has paved the way for future generations.”



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