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Honorary Degree Recipient Judge Brenda Hill Cole, C'63

April 2021

Judge Brenda Cole c63Judge Brenda Hill Cole was valedictorian of her 1959 class at Weldon High School in  Gladewater, Texas. In 1963, she received a B.A. degree from Spelman College where she majored in English and minored in French. She was an honor student, participated in the Spelman Glee Club and the AMS players, served as vice president of the Student Government; and was also an exchange student at Connecticut College..  She was elected as Miss Maroon and White by Morehouse College students for the 1961-1962 term. 

Cole received a Masters in Library Science degree from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) in 1967 and worked as a librarian at Georgia State University and Atlanta University before attending law school at Emory University School of Law. She received her J.D. degree from Emory in 1977 and served as an assistant attorney general with the Georgia State Law Department for five years.

After moving to West Virginia, she served with the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office from 1983-1988. She and her family returned to Atlanta in 1988, and she returned to the Georgia State Attorney General’s Office where she served for an additional 10 years. During her last year, she was promoted as deputy attorney general, the first Black woman to hold that position.

In 1998, Judge Cole was appointed as Judge of the State Court of Fulton County by Governor Zell Miller.  After being reelected for four terms, she served until 2012 before she was appointed senior judge in 2013 by Governor Nathan Deal. She also served as a neutral at JAMS, an international mediation and arbitration firm until 2016.

Judge Cole’s past professional memberships include president of the Council of State Court Judges, founding member of the Judicial Section of the Gate City State Bar, founding member of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys, member of the Lawyers Club of Atlanta, member of the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism and member of the Atlanta Bar Association. She was a member of the West Virginia State Bar and is currently a member of the Georgia State Bar.

Her past board memberships include the executive committee of the Carlos Museum, Emory University; Board of Trustees, Gammon Seminary; Board of Trustees, Children’s Museum of Atlanta; Atlanta Women’s Foundation; Atlanta Community Food Bank and Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta. She served on the Magistrate Judge Selection Panel of the United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia.

Judge Cole has been very active in her community and is an alumnae member and former president of Dogwood City Chapter of the Links, Inc.; Member of Kappa Omega Chapter, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; Member of Cascade United Methodist Church; Member and former President, Chums, Inc.; Member, Chautauqua Circle; Member of the Spelman College Alumnae Association, Atlanta Chapter; Member, Leadership Atlanta; Founder and Member CAU Guild and former Vice-chair, Atlanta Student Movement Committee of the Atlanta City Council. She is currently the chair of the Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants of the State Bar of Georgia.

Judge Cole has received many honors during her legal career for her service to the community and the legal profession. She is a member of HistoryMakers and was recognized by the Center for Civil and Human Rights and the State Bar of Georgia in celebration of Civil Rights Milestones and was selected as a member of the Emory 100 for the Emory Centennial. She received the following awards: Ogden Doremus-Kent Lawrence Award, Council of State Court Judges; Distinguished Leadership Award, UNCF; Distinguished Alumni Award, Emory Law Alumni Association; Leah Ward Sears Award for Distinction in the Profession by GABWA and was selected as a member of the Gate City Bar Association Hall of Fame and the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame. In 2003, the YWCA of Greater Atlanta selected Judge Cole as a Woman of Achievement and the Gate City Bar Judicial Section awarded her the Judge Clarence Cooper Legacy Award. She received a Proclamation of Honor from the Atlanta City Council in 2013 and was the Law and Justice honoree of the Spelman College Alumnae Association in 2001.

Judge Cole is married to Dr. Thomas W. Cole, Jr., President Emeritus, Clark Atlanta University and is the mother of two children, Kelley Cole Graham and Thomas W. Cole, III, and the grandmother of Ava Margaret Graham and Samantha Brynn Graham.

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