COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Hundreds of South Carolinians, including the governor and former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, on Thursday honored the tremendous career of Judge Casey Manning, who helped break the color barrier in college athletics and was known for , which brought a sense of humor to the bench.
The judge from Columbia, who sat on the bench for 28 years, is retiring this year. According to state law, judges in South Carolina must retire at age 72.
Costa Pleikones, a former chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, recently told a crowd of more than 350 people at the University of South Carolina Alumni Center that more than 50 years ago, one of Manning’s greatest accomplishments happened on the high school basketball court — not on the courts.
Just as the legendary Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player to desegregate Major League Baseball in 1947, was chosen not only for his outstanding athletic skills, but also for his character, intelligence and “basic human decency,” he said Pleicones, Manning was carefully selected by leaders to become the first black athlete to play collegiate sports at the university.
“The selection of Casey Manning as the first African-American scholarship athlete in USC history in 1969 was no accident. He was carefully selected because he embodied all the positive qualities that Jackie Robinson displayed, and maybe he was going into a more hostile arena,” Pleikons said, referring to the racist slurs directed at black players.
“Casey Manning is the Jackie Robinson of South Carolina,” Pleikons said.
About a dozen speakers Thursday also spoke about Manning’s character, mocking the retiring judge. Many touched on the judge’s well-known personal traits: his penchant for cowboy boots of various colors, his aggressive manner of asking even close friends questions like “What’s your name?” and his dog was named after the famous blues singer Fats Waller.
Charleston Democratic Rep. Deon Tedder, Manning’s former law clerk, called his former boss “the only person I know who can yell at you to calm down,” describing one of the many personality traits Manning is known for.
Honors awarded to Manning included the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian award, personally presented by Governor Henry McMaster. Manning also received a Key to the City of Columbia from former law clerk and City Manager Theresa Wilson and Columbia Councilman Edwin McDowell Jr., as well as a proclamation from the SC House presented by Rep. Seth Rose, a lawyer and former U.S.C. – American tennis player.
In addition, city and state officials announced that two streets — one in Columbia near the Richland County Courthouse and one in Manning’s home county of Dillon — would be renamed in his honor.
McMaster, who said he has been a fan of Manning since his days as a referee for the Gamecocks basketball team, praised the judge for his work with young lawyers and charities.
“He was a mentor to young people, especially young lawyers, and his outreach extended to events like the United Way,” McMaster said, noting that Manning once won a prestigious award for his civility on the bench. “Many people know him best for his 25 years as a color analyst for USC men’s basketball.”
The Palmetto was given to Manning, McMaster said, because he had “a remarkable career and a remarkable impact on our state.”
Former South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, former Chief Justice of the State Court of Appeals James Lokemi, several state judges, including DeAndrea Benjamin, Carmen Mullen and Diane Goodstein, and elected attorneys Byron Gipson, David Stumba and Ernest Feeney were also in attendance.
Former University of South Carolina basketball star Alex English, Manning’s roommate the year they both played in high school, was also there.
So were Todd Ellis, a Columbia lawyer and star quarterback for the Gamecocks in the 1980s, and Columbia lawyer and former varsity athlete Joe McCulloch, who also lived in Manning’s college dorm.
Daniel Coble, the Columbia attorney selected to succeed Manning, attended the celebration. And so did Reps. Todd Rutherford and Beth Bernstein, Democrats and lawyers from Richland, as well as state Sen. Gerald Malloy, Democrat of Darlington. Other attorneys in attendance include Columbia’s IS Levy-Johnson, media attorney Jay Bender, and Jim Griffin, who is defending accused murderer Alex Murdoch at his upcoming trial.
State judges are allowed to have clerks, and Manning has had 28 over the years, many of whom have gone on to top positions, like Benjamin, who is likely to soon join the prestigious federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“He’s a great bridge to the new face of South Carolina,” Toal said. “That room was filled to the brim with people from all walks of life and backgrounds, a gathering that could not have happened when he first came to USC as a student,” because of segregation.
“Quite a big meeting,” one person remarked.
“Absolutely the judge,” replied Columbia attorney Boyd Young.