August 25, 2020 — Cal alumnus Thelton Henderson ’55, J.D. ’62 was announced today as the newest recipient of the George H.W. Bush Distinguished Alumnus Award from the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. The award, which honors the accomplishments of college baseball players who achieved greatness off the diamond, recognizes Henderson’s contributions as a federal judge and his role in the civil rights movement.
In 2008, Henderson was recognized as the Cal Alumni Association and UC Berkeley’s Alumnus of the Year. A California magazine interview with the honoree illustrates the breadth of Henderson’s judicial impact: “His rulings have affected numerous controversial, high-profile cases: on behalf of prisoners’ rights to humane treatment, on behalf of dolphins threatened by tuna nets, on behalf of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, on behalf of gays subjected to added security scrutiny in the tech industry, on behalf of women in a landmark discrimination suit against State Farm Insurance, and in oversight efforts to resolve tensions between Oakland Police and its citizenry.”
Henderson began his Cal athletics career with the Golden Bears football team, playing two years as halfback and safety until suffering an ACL tear during his 1952 season, ruling out the game for the young student-athlete. Switching to baseball, Henderson played third base and outfield for legendary coach Clint Evans.
Henderson earned a bachelor’s in political science from UC Berkeley in 1955, and in 1962 earned a law degree from Berkeley Law as one of two Black students in his class. Also in 1962, he became the first African American lawyer in the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Henderson to the US District Court for the Northern District of California, which he served on until his retirement in 2017. He now serves as a distinguished visiting professor at Berkeley Law. The law school’s Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, established in response to California’s Proposition 209, bears tribute to his legacy.
The National College Baseball Hall of Fame’s George H.W. Bush Distinguished Alumnus Award recognizes the accomplishments of collegiate baseball players who went on to build esteemed careers and become pioneers in their fields.
More about Thelton Henderson from the archives.