The Reader’s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.
William Cousins Jr., a former alderman, prosecutor, and Cook County circuit judge died last Saturday at the age of 90. As a judge, Cousins was known as “The Prince of Darkness” for the long hours he kept in the courtroom.
As Steve Bogira wrote in a 1988 Reader profile of Cousins, “Judges are no more anxious than anyone else to linger here [at the Criminal Courts building]. Judges set their own hours, and on sunny summer days, the choice between 18 holes at Beverly Country Club and another aggravated-battery trial at 26th Street is really no choice at all. According to a recent study by a court watchers group, most judges usually have given 26th Street the slip by 1 PM.”
But Cousins’s courtroom stayed open till late in the night because of the deliberate pace set by the judge, who always referred to himself in the third person as “the court.” “Cousins,” Bogira wrote, “brings new meaning to the word ‘deliberate.'” His rulings were long and detailed in order to forestall reversals in higher courts.
In order to write his profile, Bogira spent many (very long) days with Cousins and delved into his life story, from his early life in Mississippi through his growing up in Memphis and the south side, his years at the University of Illinois and Harvard Law, his service in the Korean War, and his rise in Chicago law and politics, where he was known as both incorruptible and an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. Throughout his life, Cousins faced prejudice and lost opportunities because he was African-American; he fought back against racism as deliberately and methodically as he ruled in court.
He works the way he does at least in part because of his race. “I certainly feel that blacks, more often than not, have to do more. And if they don’t do more, they will find themselves vanquished. Vanquished. They will find themselves to be denied the opportunity to advance, or at times even to retain what they have. My work gives me protection from some of the efforts that are made at times to move on certain people. This is my extra survival technique.”