A DESCENDANT OF SLAVES who fled a plantation to seek freedom, Randolph Baxter was inspired by both family history and personal experience to pursue justice and a law degree. Growing up in Tennessee, Baxter’s father was a custodian and his mother was a domestic worker who taught him that hard work would bring him a better life.
Baxter credits his God, church, parents and teachers with encouraging his aspirations and work ethic. He witnessed segregation and yearned for the ability to “right those wrongs” and to help people. He says he was only in junior high school when he made a plan for himself: to graduate from high school by age 16, to graduate from college by age 20, and to go beyond college for an advanced degree, perhaps to be a doctor or lawyer. He put himself through school working summers in car factories, and was the first in his family to graduate from college. As a trumpeter accompanying the Tuskegee University choir to Akron for a performance in 1966, he saw his future in this city.
Baxter's grandfather, above, was an inspirational figure in his life.
Baxter applied to three law schools—Columbia, Howard and Akron—and was admitted to all of them. He believed his greatest opportunity would be here, as a Zip. But after only one year at UA’s School of Law, he was Army-bound and ended up serving as a tank platoon leader in Vietnam. He achieved the rank of captain and was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor.
Returning to Akron and his plan upon completion of his military duty, he finished law school. Baxter worked in private practice, became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, and was eventually appointed to the bench of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio, where he spent 26 years, the last four as Chief Judge. He also served as a visiting judge in Delaware, New York, Tennessee, Michigan and Florida.
Judge Baxter and his wife Yvonne—also a Zip—have four children, two of whom graduated from The University of Akron. He continues to serve the community, plays trumpet in the Cleveland Clinic Orchestra, remains active as a Zip, now as the President of the National Alumni Association, and even has a UA professorship named for him: The Randolph Baxter Professor of Law.
Soldier, lawyer, judge, adjunct law professor—Randolph Baxter continues to experience the American dream.