November 12, 1919 – 2002
Unit: 477th Bombardier Squadron
Virtual Museum posting of the Judge Arthur O. Fisher Park
The Honorable Arthur O’Neil Fisher was born Nov. 12, 1919 in Wilmington and came to Dayton at age 4. He graduated from Steele High School, the University of Dayton and the University of Cincinnati-College of Law.
A Tuskegee Airman. The son of a shoeshine man who hoped his son would never have to fight in what he considered “the white man’s war,” Fisher went on to serve in World War II as a bombardier-navigator with the legendary Tuskegee Airmen in the 477th Bombardment Squadron.
Fighting for civil rights. Fisher was a second lieutenant in the segregated armed services when he and 100 black airmen were confined to barracks for 14 days while facing court-martial and a possible death penalty after they refused to sign a statement promising to discontinue sit-ins at white officers’ clubs. The standoff ended after President Franklin D. Roosevelt died and Harry S. Truman signed an executive order abolishing segregation in the armed services on July 26, 1948.
First black in the prosecutor’s office. After the war he completed his undergraduate degree and then obtained a law degree. In 1953, then-Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias H. Heck Sr. appointed Fisher as the first black person to work in the prosecutor’s office. Fisher had previously served as an Assistant City Prosecutor in Dayton, Assistant Montgomery County Prosecutor, Dayton Municipal Court Judge, Domestic Relations Judge and Juvenile Judge. He was known as an innovative and compassionate adjudicator who established such programs as the first in house drug treatment program in Juvenile Court.
A career breaking barriers. In 1961, Fisher became the first black to be elected judge of the Dayton Municipal Court. By 1970, he broke another barrier as the first black person to win election to Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, presiding over the domestic relations division. Later, he became the first black judge of the county’s Juvenile Court.
Juvenile court accomplishments. Fisher started several rehabilitative programs for kids while a Montgomery County juvenile court judge, including the Fisher Chemical Abuse Program, the community service restitution program, the Dora Lee Tate Youth Center and home detention programs.
Always an advocate for youth. Judge Fisher retired in 1994 and died in 2002 at age 82 while living in Hilton Head, S.C. While working with children in juvenile court, Fisher once said, “This is where you’ve got to show them that, ‘Hey, I love you. I want to help you. You can make it. There’s a world out there for you. You don’t have to do this kind of thing. And when you can get them to trust you, you create within each of them a certain dependence on you. They believe in you, and you believe in them. Oh, yes, you can change them. I’ve seen it happen many times.”
He was a quiet but effective leader in the Civil Rights movement, and won recognition often, including a Martin Luther King Jr. Living Legend Award. He was inducted in 2000.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.