Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 12, 2019

Webb makes history in becoming Gewneral Sessions judge

Retired Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Clarence Shattuck gives the oath of office to his replacement, Gerald Webb, the first African-American judge to serve Hamilton County. - Photograph provided

In 1945, a young African-American boy in Hamilton County received a brand-new Bible for Christmas. His parents were poor, and the scriptures were his only present from them that year.

Not only was the child being reared in poverty, he was growing up in a nation that was legally segregated.

Seventy-three years later that boy’s son, attorney Gerald Webb, laid his hand on that same Bible and took the oath to become a General Sessions Court judge, making him the first African-American man to hold a countywide judgeship.

“This is an historic day in Hamilton County,” General Sessions Court Judge Gary Starnes said to the more than 200 people who had packed his courtroom April 3 to watch Webb be sworn in.

After taking the oath of office, Webb said he stood there as a result of the hard work and dedication of his mother and father.

“I’m the product of three things: my grandmother’s prayers, my mother’s unconditional love and my father’s size 11 shoes. I needed all three of those things to be where I am today.”

Judge Webb thanked his wife and children, who inspire him “to live the best possible life,” and his friends and former law partners. He then pledged to do his best for the citizens of Hamilton County.

“This is not a perfect country, but it is a great country. It provides opportunity to all its citizens, and if you work hard, make the right decisions and have faith in God, you can literally go anywhere and be anything,” he said. “I’m thankful my parents pushed me toward excellence.

Earlier, Judge Starnes shared a story about the time a young Webb came home with a D on his elementary school report card.

Webb’s father told him there were two ways to make a living – with a strong mind or a strong back – and then showed him what it was like to have to utilize a strong back.

“Gerald’s father made him rake all of the leaves in their yard, their neighbors’ yards and all the other yards on the street,” Judge Starnes said. “The skin on his fingers was peeled back and his hands were covered with blisters.”

Webb’s father then asked him what he intended to rely on in the future. “A strong mind,” the boy replied, “but I’m going to keep a strong back in case my mind fails.”

Later, Judge Webb related a story about a difficult period during law school when he contemplated quitting and going to work. After telling his family about his dilemma, he received an anonymous letter encouraging him to do whatever was necessary to finish law school.

“’If you want something bad enough, then go out and fight for it, work day and night for it. Give up your time, your peace and your sleep for it,’” he quoted from the letter.

“’If all you dream or scheme is about it, if your life seems useless or worthless without it, if you’d gladly plan for it, fret for it and lose all terror of the opposition for it, simply go after that thing you want with all your tenacity, strength and sagacity, faith, hope, confidence and stern pertinacity,’” he continued.

“’If neither poverty, famine or gout, sickness or strain of body and brain can keep you away from the thing you want, if dogged and grim you besiege and beset it, with the help of God, you’ll get it.”

The letter convinced Webb to stay in law school and earn his degree. Years later, as he talked with his mother, who was dying of cancer, she revealed that she was the one who’d penned it.

“My mother and father loved me, and that made all the difference in my life,” Webb explained. “Now I ask God for the ability to do this job – to give justice and to temper that justice with mercy.”

Judge Webb graduated from Brainerd High School in 1998 and earned a degree in history from Middle Tennessee State University. He earned his law degree from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.

He has worked as an assistant district attorney in Hamilton County, is a former vice president of ethics and corporate compliance at Life Care Centers of American and is a former founding law partner at Speek, Webb, Turner & Newkirk.

Judge Webb has demonstrated commitment to his community by serving on the board of trustees of Erlanger Hospital. He has also served on the boards of Finley Stadium Corporation, Prison Prevention Ministries, Dodson Avenue Community Health Center and Southside Community Health Center.

Additionally, Judge Webb is chairman of the board for the Hamilton County Opportunity Board, which challenges schools to achieve their full potential.

Judge Webb is the son of the late Gerald Webb, Sr. and the late Barbara Hayes Webb.

The Hamilton County Commission made history March 27 when it chose Webb to replace retired General Sessions Judge Clarence Shattuck, who had occupied the bench since 1982.

Judge Webb will serve until the August 2020 general election.