Judge Claudia House Morcom died in her Detroit home on Aug. 17, at age 82. Dignified, glamorously beautiful and generous with her time, wisdom and counsel, she didn’t fear speaking truth to power whether the struggle for justice appeared on a global stage or closer to home.
A memorial service remembered her rich, lifelong and wide-reaching actions holding the banner of justice and freedom.
From September 1964 to October 1965 — Freedom Summer — House Morcom relocated to Jackson, Miss., to serve as the National Lawyers Guild’s Southern regional director for legal assistance in the South, organizing legal defense for the young activists beaten and jailed for registering Black voters.
A young African-American attorney, she arrived in Jackson just when Civil Rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman went missing, all of them later to be found murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. A bullet through the windshield of her car did not deter her. Living alone on the outskirts of Jackson, she kept a sawed-off shotgun.
She loved jazz, even hosting a radio program as “The Reverend, Doctor Judge.” It is no wonder her accomplishments are listed in “Who’s Who Among African Americans.”
A founding board member of the National Alliance against Racist and Political Repression, she fought for political prisoners in the U.S. This commitment focused on freedom for the Cuban 5 after she traveled to Atlanta for their 11th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing in 2006. From then to the end of her life, Judge Claudia spoke, wrote and traveled to free these unjustly imprisoned men.
In 2012 and 2013, Judge Claudia supported the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 in the first two “5 Days for the Cuban 5” in Washington, D.C., where she joined international jurists and parliamentarians in lobbying Congress. She attended the 8th and 9th “Colloquiums for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 and Against Terrorism” in Cuba, where, in November 2013, she celebrated the return of René González after he completed his full sentence.
She helped to organize “Doctors4Detroit,” which supports Detroit area students attending medical school in Cuba. Cuba offers generous scholarships to students from underserved U.S. communities whose dream to become doctors is blocked by lack of resources.
From testifying at the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva, picketing in front of the White House, speaking at tribunals in Toronto or before Detroit’s City Council to successfully urging a resolution for freedom for the Cuban 5 and an end to the blockade, Judge Claudia was there — as she was on other social justice issues in Nicaragua (1986), South Africa (2001), Palestine (2002), Vietnam (2009), Paris, Geneva and Havana many times.
The Cuban Institute for Friendship with the People, The International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 and the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)/Pastors for Peace all recognized her life and contributions to the struggle to free all the Cuban 5, three of whom remain in U.S. prisons: Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández.
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