Judge Harold Barefoot Sanders was born on February 5, 1925 to attorney Harold Barefoot Sanders, Sr. and May Elizabeth Forrester Sanders in Dallas, Texas. Sanders told of growing up during the Depression, working odd jobs to raise money for the family. He and his father were both named for Dennie Barefoot, Judge Sanders’ paternal grandmother. She was the granddaughter of Daniel Barefoot, of Tennessee, who had settled in Montague County, Texas in the 1800s. Dennie’s father Jonathan Barefoot had served in the Civil War. Judge Sanders talked about the name Barefoot and explained in a 1971 newspaper article that it was not a nickname and was his grandmother’s maiden name. He also clarified that it was not a Native American name, as some might have supposed.
Sanders served in the United States Navy on a destroyer in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After the war ended, he enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1949 and a law degree in 1950, both from the University of Texas at Austin. After his graduation, Sanders joined his father’s Dallas law firm in 1950, Storey, Sanders, Sherrill and Armstrong.
Early on, he went by his initials, H. B. Although the name Barefoot may have caused him to be teased as a youth, it proved to be beneficial when it came to name recognition when he was campaigning for public office. While at the University of Texas, he campaigned for student body president. He and his supporters are believed to have painted footprints around campus on election day. He also wore a gold footprint pin on his robes when he became a judge. In later campaigns, his supporters would sometimes give out sugar cookies in the shape of a foot, complete with toes.
On November 22, 1963, the day of President Kennedy’s assassination, Sanders was serving as United States attorney for the Northern District of Texas. Sanders and his wife were passengers in the motorcade behind the President and Governor Conally. He told of having warned the officials on Kennedy’s staff against appearing in the motorcade. After the news broke about the death of the President, it became necessary for Sanders to locate Judge Sarah T. Hughes in order to administer the presidential oath of office to Vice President Johnson. After calling her office and her home, he was able to locate Judge Hughes who had already headed for a luncheon that was to have featured the President after the motorcade. She rushed to the airport and administered the oath aboard Air Force One while it sat at Love Field.
He served three terms as in the Texas legislature from 1953 to 1959 and was defeated in 1958 in a bid for the United States House of Representatives by the incumbent, Bruce Alger. During Kennedy’s presidential campaign, he served as campaign manager for Dallas County. Kennedy appointed him to serve as United States Attorney for Dallas and he went on to serve several years with the Justice Department for the Northern District. During the Johnson administration, he served as counsel to the President and was considered to be influential in the promotion and passage of the Civil Rights Act. He also served from 1965 to 1967 as assistant deputy attorney general. He later served as a federal judge for twenty-eight years. During his career, Sanders was nominated twice for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but was not selected either time. After defeating former Senator Ralph Yarborough in the Democratic primary, Sanders campaigned unsuccessfully for the United States Senate in an effort to gain the seat of Senator John Tower.
Judge Sanders was appointed as a federal judge by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and presided over the Dallas ISD desegregation case until 2003. Sanders served as senior judge from 1989 to 1995 and retired in 2006. Some of his decisions included approval of targeted learning centers and magnet schools as an academic alternative to the prior focus on student busing. One of his later major cases was to oversee the restructuring of Texas hospitals for the mentally ill.
(Image credit: State Bar of Texas)
His honors include receiving the “Outstanding Fifty Year Lawyer Award” from the Texas Bar Association. After his long career, Sanders passed away in 2008 at the age of 83.
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