Leo Branton Jr. was a pioneering trial lawyer. He is recognized for represented prominent black performers and for persuading an all-white jury to acquit black activist Angela Davis.
Branton was born on Feb. 17, 1922, in Pine Bluff, Ark., the oldest of five children. He attended Tennessee State University and earned his law degree from Northwestern University School of Law in 1948. He served in the Army during World War II.
In 1952, Mr. Branton represented 14 members of the California Communist Party who were accused of advocating the overthrow of the government through force. They were convicted in lower courts, but the convictions were vacated by the United States Supreme Court in 1957.
Branton began representing Nat King Cole in 1958 and eventually helped him secure ownership of his master recordings from Capitol Records. Branton was well-known before the Supreme Court.
Throughout his career, Branton visited the South during the 1960’s, lending his legal skills and services. He defended thirteen members of the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party against an unlawful attack by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Branton continued his law practice for many years, often lending pro bono services to people in need. Branton practiced law for a total of 52 years. He died in 2013 at the age of 91.