OTA Robert L. Martin

ambulance helvetica,sans-serif;”>Sunday, February 15th 2009 marked the passing of a great man.  Documented Original Tuskegee Airman (DOTA), Earl Edward Strayhorn, died peacefully at age 90, at Mercy Hospital in Chicago.   Services for DOTA Strayhorn were held on Friday, February 20, 2009 at the Sixth Grace Presbyterian Church.  The memorial was well attended by numerous chapter members including, Shelby Westbrook, Bev Dunjill, Welton Taylor, Hilton Joseph, Milton Williams, Porter Myrick and many others.  Chapter President Bev Dunjill, gave an a emotional tribute to DOTA Strayhorn on behalf of the Chicago DODO Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen.  Many other organizations with whom he was affiliated also made remarks saluting the life and memory of DOTA Strayhorn. 

DOTA Strayhorn was born in Columbus, Mississippi on April 24, 1918 to Minnie Lee Davis Strayhorn and Earl Edward Strayhorn, Sr.  Following the loss of his father to lead poisoning in 1935, DOTA Strayhorn moved with his family from Mississippi joining the Great Migration to land in Chicago as a 5 year old boy. He grew up on the city’s South Side graduating from Doolittle Elementary School, followed by Tilden Tech High School in 1936.  He received his B.A. degree from the University of Illinois in 1941. 

DOTA Strayhorn entered military service as a Private two months prior to  America entering the war in 1941.  He later served with the Tuskegee Airmen, where he was sergeant-in-charge of establishing a Military Police Section.  He also served with the 92nd Division artillery unit in Italy during World War II and left the army in February 1946 with the rank of First Lieutenant.  After the war he joined the Illinois National Guard, where he led units in each of the five civil disturbances in Chicago during the late 1960’s, including the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 1968.  He retired from the Illinois National Guard with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1969.

Following WWII, DOTA Strayhorn entered the first class at Depaul University College of Law and received his J.D. in 1948.  On June 21, 1948 he was admitted to the Illinois bar.  He was hired right from law school as a Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney, and served in that office as a prosecutor from 1949 to 1952.  In 1952 he became a founding partner of the law firm Rogers, Rogers, Strayhorn and Harth.  DOTA Strayhorn lectured widely on criminal issues and beginning in 1977, was an adjunct professor of criminal justice in trial advocacy for the University of Illinois-Chicago, taught as an Adjunct Professor or Instructor at Harvard University Law School, the University of North Carolina Law School, Northwestern University Law School, Emory University College of Law, Benjamin Cardozo College of Law and Olive-Harvey College.

One of his partners in the mid-1950s  was noted Chicago attorney James D. Montgomery, who was then just out of law school and  later became a corporation counsel under Mayor Harold Washington.  According to Montgomery, “in the late 1960s, Judge  Strayhorn defended one of several men accused of arson and inciting riots in the  days following the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.”  Montgomery also  had a client in the case.  “With his military background, Judge Strayhorn offered valuable insight into the work of the police and National Guard during the riots, Montgomery said.”  The defense successfully challenged the credibility of an undercover police officer, and all of the defendants were found not guilty.

DOTA Strayhorn was a trustee of the Metropolitan Sanitary District from 1963 to 1970, serving as it’s president for four years and as secretary of the Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund for six years.  He also served on the City of Chicago Civil Service Commission from 1959 to 1963, and was a hearing officer for the Fair Employment Practice Commission in 1969-70.

Hard-nosed but not hardhearted is how he drew his self-portrait.  Lt Col. Strayhorn, who in 1991 at age 73, became the oldest sitting Criminal Court judge in Cook County.  In a May 1991 article from the Chicago Sun-Time, the Judge said, “…the rigors of 21 years on the bench have not diminished my enthusiasm for a hard job which has been easier because I don’t have any axes to grind.”  He decided to serve another 7 years on the bench and said jokingly, “..in order to keep my wife from becoming a Criminal Court defendant.”

Following his retirement from the bench in 1998, Judge Strayhorn talked with the Chicago Tribune about the challenges of life in the  black robes (of a jurist) and gave an indication of the even-keeled temperament that made him respected by both defense and prosecution. “In my 28 years on the bench,  …the toughest issue I faced, was finding the punishment I felt was  appropriate,” he said.  “A judge is not society’s avenging angel.  A judge should  not go into a revenge mode.”  But, he admitted, “vengeance is human  nature, so when I was disturbed or angry, I postponed the  sentencing.”

DOTA Strayhorn is survived by his loving wife of 65 years, Lygia; son, Donald; daughter, Earlene; granddaughter, Lauren; grandsons, Jordan and Amman and other relatives and a host of dear friends.

In a January 2003 interview with “The HistoryMakers®”, Judge Strayhorn commented then that “he ‘was’ too young to ponder his legacy, but wants to be remembered “as a person that was fair and just and called them as he saw them, regardless of the outcome.”  Judge Strayhorn was elected to both the National & Cook County Bar Association’s Halls of Fame in 1997.


Robert Martinhere
helvetica,sans-serif;”>First Lieutenant Robert L. Martin was born in Dubuque Iowa. He joined the Army Air Corps at Tuskegee in 1944. He carried out 63 ½ combat missions with the 100th Fighter Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group. On March 3 1945, he was cut down by ground fire following his attack mission on an enemy airfield in Zagreb,Yugoslavia. His plane on fire, he was forced to bail-out over enemy held territory. Rescued and helped by allied sympathizer, he succeeded in escaping capture. He remained in Yugoslavia for 5 weeks until he was sucessful in returning to Italy first by truck and then by airplane. For his combat service Lt Martin received: The Distinguished Flying Cross; The Air Medal with 6 Oak leaf clusters and The Purple Heart.