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Cleveland Pioneer Centenarian Judge Jean M. Capers Dies

Centenarian Judge Jean Murrell Capers, the first African American woman elected to the Cleveland City Council, a distinguished legal pioneer who served as Assistant Attorney General and Cleveland Municipal Court Judge for more than a decade has died. She was 104 years old.

News of her passing lit up social media mid day Tuesday and a bevy of calls poured into the Call & Post Newspaper, but her death subsequently was confirmed by her court appointed guardian Vel Scott on July18. She succumbed at 11 a.m. with her doctor, nurse and her guardian by her side.

Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge Statement on the Passing of Judge Jean Murrell Capers

“Judge, community activist, sorority sister, mentor, and friend: Judge Capers meant so much to so many. At 104 years of age, she was an institution. Almost everyone knew and loved her.

“Judge Capers was a role model for women. From her days as a competitive tennis player and health and physical education teacher, to her advocacy in the courtroom and time on the bench, Judge Capers never gave up and never gave in. She was a tireless worker and our champion, fighting to defend the rights of all people.

Judge Capers did it her way - with her hat and heels, she was always a lady. Judge Capers left an indelible mark on our community.

“On behalf of the constituents of the Eleventh Congressional District, I extend my deepest condolences to the Capers Family. Judge Capers was, and is, a community treasure. She will be missed.”

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson reflected on the passing of Judge Capers.

"Judge Capers gave her time and talent to mentoring future leaders and was a tenacious advocate and fighter for the city, the central neighborhood and the people," said Jackson in a press release. " I remember her as a person who required excellence, order and professionalism."

Jackson said that Capers was "the first ‘Negro’ female member of city council, but despite her accomplishments, she never forgot where she came from, and stayed in the central neighborhood until just a few years ago. "

"Judge Capers was a colleague, neighbor and a friend, I will miss her dearly," said Mayor Jackson.

" To have known her was to have loved her," said state Rep. Bill Patmon, a Cleveland and former city councilman. "If there is one icon that shows brightly in Cleveland's historical years, she was it, and we shall miss her."

Judge Capers, as she was so affectionately called became the first African-American woman elected to Cleveland City Council in 1949.

When she was 62, Capers was appointed a Cleveland Municipal Court judge. She was later elected to the same post and remained on the bench until her retirement in 1986, but continued consulting.

Her greatest passion was advocating for the poor, she was one of the first members of the Women’s Advisory Council of the Women’s Division at the former Ohio Bureau of Employment Services, which is now called the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Appointed an assistant state attorney general in 1959, she later served as a Cleveland Municipal Court judge from 1977 until 1986, leaving only because Ohio law required judges to retire at age 70.

She grew up and resided in some of the vintage housing in Cedar-Central at E. 40th Street, a home that was purchased in 1933 by her father Edward Murrell, Capers' ] who contributed largely to the African American community in Northeast Ohio. Edward Murrell was primarily involved with African American newspapers, The Post and The Call, which we now know as the Call and Post, the only African-American-owned general circulation newspaper in Cleveland.

She celebrated 104 years on her Jan. 11 birthday the way she starts each day with a prayer of thanks for life.

When I came to Cleveland in 2015 to run the Call & Post, Judge Capers was among the most frequently names that was mentioned, and I finally had the honor of meeting her on a couple of occasions and she invited me to her home.

“You and I have to sit down and have a talk,” she said. There was no more comforting words to this big city kid from Los Angeles than those of Judge Capers, and it wasn’t as if she was merely asking me either.

Judge Capers came before the Stokes brothers Carl and Lewis, two iconic Cleveland public servants, and she lived to see the first African American President Barack Obama serve two terms in office.

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