‘Don’t spectate. Participate’: Attorney Joseph Arrington Sr., 83, dies in house fire

Joseph Arrington Sr., a graduate of Morehouse College, died Thanksgiving night after a fire broke out at his home in southwest Atlanta.
Joseph Arrington Sr., a graduate of Morehouse College, died Thanksgiving night after a fire broke out at his home in southwest Atlanta.

Credit: Joseph Arrington II

Credit: Joseph Arrington II

Family members remember Joseph Arrington Sr. as an avid reader, writer and tennis player, who picked up various skills and exceled in them.

“He was just a passionate guy,” his son, Joseph Arrington II, said of the attorney.

His nephew, Marvin Arrington Jr., who’s a Fulton County Commissioner representing District 5, recalled, “He was always in a good, cheerful mood.”

Affectionately known as “Uncle Joe,” Joseph Arrington Sr. died Thanksgiving night after a fire broke out at his home in the 1200 block of Veltre Circle in southwest Atlanta. Although his family isn’t sure what caused the fire, they believe it may have ignited in the kitchen while he was warming food.

AJC.com has reached out to the Atlanta Fire Department for further information about the incident.

“He was able to achieve a lot of great things in his 83 years,” Arrington II said. “He left a lot of great lessons behind for me and my sister and my mom to carry on with us.”

Arrington Sr. was born in Grady Memorial Hospital in the shadow of his residence, the Grady Homes Housing Project, in 1937.

“Dad was a fierce advocate of education,” Arrington II said. “That was primarily fueled by the hardships of growing up in segregated Atlanta, and he had seen that the only way he knew to break clear of that situation was to just entrench himself in education.”

He was the oldest of five children and called himself the “Leader of the Arrington Pack,” knowing that he would pioneer the path that his siblings would take one day.

Arrington Sr. was the first in the family to obtain a post-graduate degree. After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree at Morehouse College in 1958 before receiving a law degree in 1969 from North Carolina Central University. According to his son, he was the only African American student awarded a Title I Public Health Service traineeship to the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and School of Law.

His accomplishments inspired six additional family members to become lawyers, including his son, daughter Jill Arrington and nephew.

“He loved three things: Morehouse College, his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and the No. 1 thing was Aunt Barbara. He would talk about those three things nonstop,” Arrington Jr. said.

His love for his college led him to become a member of Morehouse College’s National Alumni Association for four years, before serving as a president of the Atlanta chapter for nine years, Arrington II said. He then went on to become a regional vice president for the southeastern region for a decade. According to his son, Arrington Sr.’s greatest accomplishment was taking the association’s membership from 30 to 350 in one year in the 1980s.

Arrington II said his father taught him many lessons, including, “Don’t spectate. Participate. See a good fight; jump in.”

“He wanted to get his hands dirty,” Arrington II said. “He wanted to get involved.”

A date has not been set for the funeral, but William Gayleano Murray and Son Funeral Home on McDaniel Street will handle the arrangements.

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