LEO BRANTON JR. 1922 - 2013

Leo Branton Jr., a civil rights and entertainment lawyer who championed the underdog, died April 19 in Los Angeles. He was also father to Tony Nicholas who runs the Tom Bradley Youth and Family Center on Pico. Leo was, 91, and a longtime resident of LaFayette Square. We reprint the article we wrote about him in our Feb. 2011 issue.


Visiting with Lafayette Square resident Leo Branton feels like time travel through landmarks of 20th century history.  Branton, a famous civil rights attorney, served as defense counsel to Angela Davis, Hollywood blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, several Black Panthers, and innocent men arrested in the Watts Riots.  Branton was also one of the first African- American attorneys to provide legal representation to entertaiers, including Dorothy Dandridge, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, and Jimi Hendrix, (until he fired the last performer for lack of cooperation, that is.)  Local residents may also know Branton as host to Rosa Parks each winter in his home for the decade preceding her death.

Branton explains he had his first experience with discrimination when arrested as a teenager after he fought back when a store clerk struck him in his native Arkansas – a case later dismissed by a judge. Yet it was the acting bug that inspired Branton to study law at Northwestern, after traveling with a repertory company and military service.  The tireless attorney who has won numerous distinctions and is a sought-after speaker, was one of the first to hire a consultant to psychologically profile juries and to demand fairer diversity of juries. Other legal distinctions include winning cases upon appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court level.  His persuasive closing argument in the case of People v. Angela Davis (where he served as Chief Counsel) is still used for instruction in law schools. Branton is most proud of his 40-year effort to free death row inmate Robert Wesley Wells.

Although retired for ten years, Branton, continues to do pro bono work, graciously accepting cases for individuals arrested on bogus charges who cannot afford representation on their own.    However, despite his 62-year career in civil rights (Branton was awarded the ACLU’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009),  it is his late wife, Geraldine Branton, who he credits as his greatest inspiration: “When she saw a wrong, she tried to solve it.” He encourages young black people to take better advantage of the greater opportunities achieved through the civil rights movement.  Branton has three sons and grandchildren.  

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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