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In Memoriam: Judge John Singleton

Dr. Don Carleton, Executive Directory of the Briscoe Center

On November 21, 1963, John F. Kennedy was boarding Air Force One in Houston, en route to Dallas for the last leg of his fateful Texas tour. Before he boarded, he turned and thanked the man who had been tasked by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson with taking care of Kennedy's arrangements in Houston—John V. Singleton. 

"President Kennedy came up to me, thanked me for a wonderful visit to Houston, and said that the arrangements had been excellent and that they had had a wonderful visit and a wonderful time," recalled Singleton in 2008, speaking to the Houston Chronicle.

By 2008, Singleton was in his nineties and could reflect on a colorful seven-decade career in politics and law starting in the 1940s when he first began organizing the political affairs of Lyndon Johnson in Houston, and later as a federal judge. (On several occasions, he received death threats while presiding over corruption trials.) In 2014, Singleton donated his papers to the Briscoe Center — an impressive trove of materials that provide a wealth of insight into the judicial, political, and criminal landscape of Texas in the late twentieth century.

On Friday, Judge Singleton passed away. It was his 97th birthday. 

"The Briscoe Center is saddened by the news of Judge Singleton's death. He lived a very full life, much of it in the service of others through our nation's judiciary," said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. "I was personally very pleased when he donated his papers to the center last year, as it's easy to recognize the importance of his career and the personal color he brought to it." 

John Singleton was born in Kaufman, Texas, 1918 — the final year of the First World War. Raised in Waxahachie, Singleton received his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. After passing the Texas Bar Exam in 1942, he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Following the war, he practiced law in Houston. A political confidant of President Lyndon Johnson since the 1940s, Singleton was a regional coordinator for the 1964 Johnson–Humphrey campaign. In 1966 he was appointed judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, and chief judge in 1979. He presided over many cases involving fraud, corruption, and organized crime before retiring from the bench in 1992.

 "Singleton came to visit the center last year, accompanied by his friend Joe Royce, who is a member of our advisory council. The judge was in great spirits—lucid, funny and full of stories," said Carleton. "His life and career intersected with a tumultuous time in American history."

About the John Singleton Papers:

The John Singleton Papers includes photographs, resumes, court opinions, trial documents, case files, and transcripts of oral history interviews, as well as correspondence with President John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Governor John Connally, and Congressman Jim Wright.

Online finding aid: