First elected Black prosecuting attorney honored

The State Bar of Michigan has named Percy J. Langster the 44th Michigan Legal Milestone.

Langster served as Lake County prosecutor from 1949-1950 and was the first African American elected as a prosecuting attorney in the United States.

A bronze plaque commemorating Langster’s life and legacy will be unveiled during the Michigan Legal Milestone celebration 2-5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25, at Yates Township Hall in Lake County.
Langster (1889-1954) was one of two attorneys in Lake County when he challenged incumbent Dic I. Cooper — the county’s other attorney — in a contentious race that saw Langster win the support of the incumbent sheriff and a majority of county candidates excluded from the ballot.

As home to Idlewild, Lake County had a significant African American population, but white voters still outnumbered Black voters three to one when Langster was elected. At the time, Idlewild was the largest African American summer resort community in the nation and some of those vacation-goers became year-round residents. Idlewild was made famous again by the 2006 movie of the same name.

SBM President James W. Heath said Langster’s “courage and perseverance allowed him to challenge both direct and institutional racism.

“As the elected prosecutor for Lake County, he committed himself to delivering equal justice within a system which overtly marginalized Black citizens,” Heath said. “All of us who have in some way taken on the task of making our society more fair and just owe Percy Langster a tremendous debt of gratitude.”

Wayne County 36th District Court Judge Jacquelyn A. McClinton, chair of the Michigan Legal Milestones Committee, will serve as emcee for the event. Other speakers include Heath; Ronald J. Stephens, professor of African American studies at Purdue University and Idlewild historian; and author Nancy Vogl, who nominated Langster for Michigan Legal Milestones recognition.

Michigan Legal Milestones are adopted by the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners upon recommendation from a committee of volunteer attorneys. Milestones recognize significant people and legal cases in Michigan history. Bronze plaques are dedicated and placed in local communities to commemorate the significance of each Michigan Legal Milestone.

After the plaque is unveiled, it will be permanently installed at the Lake County Courthouse in Baldwin.