Homepage Sidebar

This program is supported by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.


Joe Billy McDade

Joe Billy McDade

United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois Peoria, Illinois

Born: Belleville, Texas-December 2, 1937.
Education: Bradley University, Peoria Illinois (B.S. 1959; M.S. 1960) and University of Michigan Law School (J.D. 1963).
Judge McDade was the first African-American judge appointed to the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. He was appointed on December 13, 1991 by President Bush. He served as Chief Judge of that court from 1998 to 2004.

When Joe Billy McDade was a year old, his mother passed away leaving him and his sister in the care of his father, who worked as a janitor and a Baptist Minister. Nine years later, Mr. McDade died leaving his children in the custody of his mother. Since her income as a domestic was not sufficient to support the family, Judge McDade picked cotton and shelled garlic to supplement his grandmother's earnings.

Although he was orphaned at the age of ten, many people in his neighborhood, church, and school took an active interest in McDade. His high school principal, for instance, was a constant source of inspiration for Judge McDade. He "constantly preached that through hard work and discipline, we [African-Americans] could compete in the white world." Additionally, many people in his community convinced Judge McDade that his social and financial circumstances were not impenetrable obstacles to success.

Judge McDade can remember considering a legal career at an early age:

The one incident I can point to happened when I was ten or eleven years old. A white broom salesman came to the house and my grandmother could not bring herself to refuse his solicitations even though we needed the money for the payment of rent. I recall crying and urging her to refuse the purchase. For the first time, I recall saying, " when I grow up, I am going to be a lawyer so that no one has to buy a broom if they don't want to."

Upon graduating law school in 1963, Judge McDade began his professional career as an attorney with the AntiTrust Division of the United States Department of Justice in Chicago. In 1965, he left Chicago to become the Executive Trainer with the First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Peoria. That same year, McDade became the first African-American Executive Director of the Greater Peoria Legal Aide Society. In 1968, Judge McDade was a founding partner of the first racially mixed law firm in Peoria, Hafele & McDade, where he worked until he opened his own firm, Joe Billy McDade P.C., in 1977.

In 1982, upon being appointed an Associate Circuit Judge for the Tenth Judicial Circuit for the counties of Peoria, Tazewell, Marshall, Stark, and Putnam, Judge McDade became the first African-American to be appointed to the state court in that circuit. He held that position until 1988, when he was elected as an Associate Circuit Judge for the Tenth Judicial Circuit. Judge McDade was also the first African-American to be elected to that office.

Judge McDade finds his work "ennobling which is consistent with the ideals and values underlying the work that judges do." He enjoys every facet of his position, especially the unique privilege bestowed on him by the people to administer justice. He believes that twenty years of general practice, involvement in civic affairs and community service, and respect for hard work and practical common sense prepared him for the bench.

Judge McDade encourages those who possess strong analytical, writing, and verbal skills to consider pursuing a career in law. These qualifications alone, however, will not suffice. Judge McDade notes that "there must also be an inherent sense of fairness, a basic honesty, and a desire to do justice."

Send this page to a friend