One day in 2008, while serving as a Fulton County Superior Court Judge, Marvin Arrington, Sr. made a strange decision.

He cleared the room of white lawyers, leaving only a crowd of defendants. He wanted to have a private conversation with the mostly young Black Atlantans before him. The controversial moment made national headlines but now, 15 years later, his actions are remembered as a poignant example of his love for Black Atlanta.

“Those of us who were sons and daughters of the South, we grew up a certain way, well we understood his actions completely,” Mayor Andre Dickens said during a memorial service at which Arrington lay in state inside Atlanta City Hall. “Sometimes it is incumbent upon us to pull each other’s coat and tell each other the truth about the road we’re traveling, even if the truth is painful.”

The story was among many shared about Arrington on Thursday as family, friends and admirers trickled in and out of the Atlanta City Council chamber — named after Arrington Sr. himself — to pay their respects to the former Fulton judge and politician who played a key part in the city’s history.

The former City Council president and Fulton judge died earlier this month at the age of 82.

A native Atlantan, Arrington graduated from Emory University Law School in 1967 as one of the school’s first Black graduates. He then began to forge his path as one of the city’s most prominent political leaders.

“We’re feeling sad about his loss, but at the same time can only rejoice in the life that he lived and the people that he touched,” said his son and Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington, Jr.

The elder Arrington worked with every mayor from Sam Massell to Bill Campbell during his long tenure on Atlanta City Council.

A reflection of his storied career, the tribute ceremony held for Arrington at City Hall featured remarks from an impressive lineup of speakers including three Atlanta mayors (Dickens, Shirley Franklin and Kasim Reed) along with five City Council presidents (Doug Shipman, Felicia Moore, Ceasar C. Mitchell, Lisa Borders and Cathy Woolard).

“Marvin Arrington, Sr. loved Atlanta and Atlanta loved him back,” said Former Mayor Kasim Reed.

Marvin Arrington Jr. (center) and family walk past photos of current city council members at Atlanta City Hall before celebrating the life of Marvin Arrington Sr. on Thursday, July 27, 2023. Marvin Arrington Sr., former superior court judge and Atlanta City Council president, lay in state at city hall. (Arvin Temkar /


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Arrington graduated from Henry McNeal Turner High School in 1959, and went on to Clark College on a football scholarship. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1963 and went to the Howard University School of Law for a year. Arrington later transferred to Emory University School of Law.

He was elected to the Atlanta Board of Aldermen in 1969 at age 28. He later became an Atlanta councilman after the 1974 city charter amendment changed the board into the city council that governs Atlanta today.

Arrington eventually became Atlanta’s city council president in 1980 and served for nearly two decades before his unsuccessful mayoral bid against Bill Campbell in 1997.

“The modern council president’s role was shaped in so many ways by the way that he served,” said current Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman. “So we stand here today on his shoulders and we stand literally in his chamber.”

Among the crowd that came to Trinity Ave to celebrate Arrington’s life was an array of Atlanta icons, from philanthropist Billye Aaron to esteemed federal court judge Clarence Cooper. The patchwork of personalities present, some said, was a clear depiction of the high regard he had for the city and that the city had for him.

Speakers lauded Arrington as a true Atlanta success story and one of the city’s most influential leaders of all time. Community leader and Arrington’s close friend Henrietta Antoinin helped run his campaign for council president and his unsuccessful bid for mayor.

“I was so excited to see a Black man, homeboy, native Atlanta, Grady baby from the housing projects of Atlanta run for the highest office of the city,” she said. “Marvin lost the race but he never lost his dedication and commitment to continue the struggle to fight for justice and equality for his people.”

The casket of Marvin Arrington Sr., former superior court judge and Atlanta City Council president, is closed as he lay in state at Atlanta City Hall on Thursday, July 27, 2023. (Arvin Temkar /


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While standing next to a display of Arrington’s superior court justice robes, high-profile politicians recalled his commitment to public service, long before he took to the City Council podium or the bench in a courtroom.

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin shared one story of a night in 1969 when she found herself at a bar in Atlanta’s underground discussing the importance of public service with a small group of people — including Arrington.

“Marvin’s life is an example of an era in America where young people decided they had had enough and that they were going to do something different,” she said.

Despite his lengthy political career, Arrington’s legal colleagues said that one of his biggest successes was creating a path for Black lawyers that never existed before.

Superior Court Judge John Goger worked as Arrington’s law partner for a decade and served with him in the Fulton County court.

“The law school environment is tough,” Goger said. “...But to go through that in the context of a discriminated, segregated legal society, I just couldn’t understand how he did it or so many other of his colleagues that followed him.”

In the wake of his death, Arrington’s family is establishing a scholarship fund in his name to provide financial assistance for law students.

“One of the big things that he did was train, hire and mentor young attorneys,” Arrington, Jr. told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And that is certainly going to be, at least for me, a bigger part of his legacy than his work as an elected official.”

“Part of the reason he ran for office was because he had attended law school and knew that there was more than one way to affect the law,” he said.

Their goal is to raise $1 million to support students pursuing higher education.