As of Monday, the Atlanta City Council chambers bears the name of retired Fulton County Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington.
“I believe that it was fitting to name the Atlanta City Council chambers after the longest serving president of the City Council,” Fulton County Attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker told the Daily Report Tuesday. “Judge Arrington is a phenomenal lawyer who believed in public service and giving back to his community. His length of service is even more amazing when you realize that when he started his service in 1969 that the water fountains and the restrooms were segregated. From that moment forward, he sought to right injustices and create a level playing field for citizens in Atlanta. He also fought for affordable housing and development in under served areas of our city like University Homes, Capitol Homes and Vine City. He was a terrific mentor and employer. I learned quite a bit about being a lawyer from him and I appreciate everything that he taught me.”
Arrington and Senior Judge Clarence Cooper of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia were the first full-time African American students at Emory Law School, graduating in 1967. They followed Theodore Smith, who entered as a part-time student.
“When we started, no law firm in town would hire an African-American lawyer,” Arrington told the Daily Report in 2014. He recalled that the clerk of Fulton County Superior Court wouldn’t even accept pleadings from African American lawyers. “He’d throw them back at us,” said Arrington. So he started his own firm, which became known as Arrington and Hollowell. And he ran for and was elected to the Atlanta Board of Aldermen at the same time as another lawyer, Maynard Jackson, who went on to become the city’s first African American mayor.
Arrington told the Daily Report the proudest moment of his career came when the State Bar of Georgia installed its first African American president, Perkins-Hooker, who is now Fulton County attorney.
Though she graduated from Emory Law in 1984, she found the same closed doors at Atlanta’s big firms. Arrington hired her at his firm. She said the advice he gave her was simple: “Work hard and do a good job.”
Arrington was known for straight talk and fierce will in his law practice and in his role as Atlanta City Council president, a job he held for 17 years in the old chambers at the iconic Gothic-style city hall building on Mitchell Street. He was a strong leader of a contentious group. He was the tiebreaker and the referee. He worried when he saw members putting their own district’s interests ahead of the city’s. He organized a retreat to help them learn to get along. He wrote a creed insisting that they treat each other respectfully.
“I have been literally flooded with phone calls from you over some very petty problems,” Arrington once told a warring council during the 1980s. “We are all adults. Sometimes you could pick up the phone and call each other instead of calling me. I don’t have the time or the desire to put out all the brush fires in the world. You people are wearing me out.”
On Monday, the council gathered to pay him tribute. Current Councilman Michael Julian Bond hosted the ceremony and led the ribbon cutting. Former Atlanta City Councilman and now Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts gave greetings. Speakers included Arrington’s son and daughter, both lawyers. Marvin Arrington Jr. practices with his own firm, Arrington & Phillips. Michelle Arrington works in the Fulton County Attorney’s Office with Perkins-Hooker.
Michelle Arrington said Monday that her father always emphasized to her and her brother the importance of education and service.
“Through these principles, I saw him give back to young law students through scholarships and internships. He wanted to ensure that the next generation of lawyers had opportunities that he did not have,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many African American lawyers that I know and that I serve in professional organizations with that to this day continue to tell me ‘Your dad gave me an opportunity as a young lawyer, with his firm, when no one else would hire me. He gave me the training and experience I needed to become a great attorney.’”
She added, “The impact of his service and his legacy is a challenge to us all to make sure that we are leaving our mark.”