Inspire U: The Podcast

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s first African-American federal judge has taken the seat once occupied by an equal opportunity champion best known for ordering the desegregation of Indianapolis public schools.

Tanya Walton Pratt, 51, was sworn in Friday to the U.S. District Court seat formerly filled by Judge S. Hugh Dillin, who ordered thousands of black students from Indianapolis Public Schools to attend township schools in the early 1980s, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Dillin died in 2006 at age 91.

“Judge Dillin would be so pleased having you as his successor,” Judge Sarah Evans Barker told Pratt during the swearing-in ceremony. “Surely his spirit is in this place.”

Pratt’s parents, both the grandchildren of slaves, were successful leaders in the Indianapolis community. Her father, Charles Walton, was an attorney and state legislator. Her mother, Joan Blackshear Walton, taught kindergarten in the Indianapolis Public Schools for 40 years.

A genealogy enthusiast, Pratt said one of her great-grandfathers, Boyswell Blackshear, was born into slavery in 1854 in Lawrence County, Ga. By 1888, he had bought his own property and was a brick mason.

That heritage of working hard to overcome obstacles has inspired members of her family, she said.

“I did not attend college or law school at Ivy League institutions,” she said. “I am a proud product of historically black colleges and universities.”

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Spelman College in Atlanta in 1981 and her law degree from Howard University in Washington in 1984.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Pratt for the Indiana Southern District seat 95-0 on June 15.

Pratt succeeds Judge David Hamilton, recently elevated to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

She and her husband, Indianapolis defense attorney Marcel Pratt, met when they were law students at Howard. Married 26 years, they have a 19-year-old daughter, Lena.

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