NewsBlack History Month 2023


Historical room at federal courthouse renamed to honor trailblazing Black federal judge

Posted at 4:44 PM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 18:33:47-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A judge's legacy will forever be remembered at the federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

On Friday, Judge Fernando Gaitan's colleagues unveiled the renaming of a historical room in the federal courthouse.

The room that highlights some of the area's biggest cases will now be called The Fernando J. Gaitan, Jr. Bell Room.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed Gaitan as a district judge. He was the first African American judge appointed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

The judge still serves on the federal bench more than 30 years later.

"This court is where I needed to be," Gaitan said. "I didn't know I needed to be here, but this court is my professional accomplishment that I'm most proud of."

Before the ceremony, Judge Brian Wimes held a fireside chat with Gaitan.

It was to celebrate Black History Month and recognize the accomplishments of Gaitan. Wimes said he has looked up to him since he was a young attorney.

"So, when I came on the bench and eventually ascended to the federal bench with him, it was like you have your hero who is now your colleague and so it was a great feeling," Wimes said.

Wimes came up with the idea to name the historical room after Gaitan. The other federal judges gave their support by signing on.

"Because of him, he was the trailblazer that I believe allowed me to ascend to the federal bench," Wimes said.

Months of planning led to the special moment on Friday.

"I told my wife I don't like surprises. She knew about it. She didn't tell me. That's what I was thinking," Gaitan said.

He's also humble about the honor.

"I don't feel like I'm deserving," Gaitan said. "A lot of people were involved in this."

Family, friends and people in the community showed their support for the judge.

While times are different since he was appointed to the federal bench, he said there's more work to do about diversity in the judicial system.

"It can be better, but it's certainly better than when I came on," said.