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Effort underway to request removal of portrait of former Supreme Court Justice Ruffin

I thought I would share a bit of good news on this Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. On Dec. 24, I sent an email to the Orange County Board of County Commissioners asking that they form a portraiture committee regarding the removal of the portrait of former NC Chief Justice Thomas Ruffin from the courtroom of the Orange County Historic Courthouse.

I cited the excellent research of Orange County Commissioner Sally Greene and UNC Law Professor Eric Muller showing that Ruffin was an exceptionally brutal enslaver, a slave trader, and the author of State v. Mann, an opinion that basically said the enslavers control over the enslaved was unlimited and that the enslaver could use unlimited violence and brutality in exercising that control.

The Assistant County Manager responded and indicated that the County would remove the portrait if requested by Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Carl Fox. On Dec. 24, I emailed Judge Fox regarding the matter and again cited the work of Sally and Eric. Judge Fox did send such a request to the County Manager a few days ago on January 16th. His response is forwarded below. Sally, Eric, and I and several others hope to use this result to help persuade the NC Supreme Court Portraiture Committee to take significant action regarding the huge portrait of Ruffin in the NC Supreme Court Courtroom and his statue in the Court of Appeals Building.

When We Fight We Win,


Email from Judge Fox:

Dear Mr. Myren:

I have been informed by Mr. James Williams, former Public Defender for the 18th Prosecutorial District, that a portrait of former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruffin currently hangs in a place of honor in the Historic Orange County Courthouse. Apparently, Eric Mueller and Orange County Commissioner Sally Green have found through their research that former Chief Justice Ruffin was an enslaver and slave trader. He was the author of State v. Mann, a case that rivals the Dred Scott decision in its horror and inhumanity.

A large portrait of former Chief Justice Ruffin is prominently placed in the courtroom of the North Carolina Supreme Court and the current Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, the Honorable Cheri Beasley, has named a committee to consider the appropriateness of certain portraits in the N.C. Supreme Court Building.

I have previously requested that a portrait of former Judge Phipps be removed from the Mural Courtroom because of his racist past. I am requesting that you remove the portrait of former Chief Justice Ruffin from the Historic Orange County Courtroom because his racist past and his participation in slave trading and slave ownership.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you very much for your consideration and I look forward to your response. Have a nice afternoon!


Carl Carl R. Fox Senior Resident Superior Court Judge

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