Adolpho A. Birch


Adolpho A. Birch, a pioneering African American jurist, became the first black man to hold several judicial posts in Nashville and the first to assume the chief justice position of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Birch was born in Washington, D.C., the first child of an Episcopal minister of the same name who had migrated in 1894 to the United States from British Honduras (now Belize) seeking an education. When the boy was six, his mother died during the birth of a third child. Birch was raised alone by a father who believed in stern discipline but also benefited from the affection of members of his father's church. After graduation from Washington, D.C.'s famous Dunbar High School, Birch attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, later transferring to Howard University in D.C., where he received in 1956 both his undergraduate and law degrees at the same time.

After two years in the military, Birch moved to Nashville, where he worked in the office of an African American attorney for office space and $12.50 per week. Later he entered into private practice with well-known African American attorney Bob Lillard, who mentored him. In 1966 Birch began a series of firsts for African American lawyers in Tennessee. A Democrat, he received appointment as the first black assistant attorney general in Nashville. In 1969 Governor Buford Ellington appointed him to a general sessions judgeship, the first state judicial post held by an African American in Tennessee; he was reelected twice. In 1978 Governor Ray Blanton appointed Birch as criminal court judge. Known for his stern bearing toward litigants and lawyers, Judge Birch received the endorsement of the Nashville Bar Association for his candidacy, and he was reelected to this position as well. In 1987 Governor Ned McWherter elevated him to the court of criminal appeals (he was again the first African American to hold the seat). Judge Birch was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1993, and was later elected to a full term.

He was married the former Janet Scott (deceased) and is the father of three children–twin daughters and a son.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Adolpho A. Birch
  • Coverage 1929-
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date June 15, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018