Branton was born February 17, 1922 in Pine Bluff, Ark. The Tennessee State University graduate and World War II veteran became the Northwestern University School of Law’s first Black graduate in 1948. Relocating to California, Branton opened the first Black-owned law practice in the state.
In the early ’50’s, Branton worked alongside civil rights attorney Charles Garry in an attempt to get Robert Wesley Wells, a Black man placed on death row for assaulting a prison guard while currently serving a life sentence. Wells was granted clemency in 1954 based on Branton and Garry’s efforts.
As an entertainment lawyer, Branton worked for the likes of Nat King Cole, Dorothy Dandrige, Richard Pryor, Miles Davis and the estate of Jimi Hendrix among others. He was also key he defending members of the Black Panther Party in the late ’60’s. But where Branton’s legacy shines brightest is how he managed to get Davis clear of the kidnapping and murder of a California state judge.
In 1970, 17-year-old Jonathan Jackson, the younger brother of imprisoned author and activist George Jackson, took over a courtroom in Marin County with weapons purchased by Davis just days prior. It was said that Davis helped orchestrate the crime and attempted escape of Jackson with the help of the elder brother. It was a politically-charged trial complete with the expected impact of sexism and racism due to Davis being a Black woman.
Branton joined the defense team for Davis, who was a former professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. Facing the death penalty, Branton was able to frame the case in such a way that made the jury sympathetic to her plight and employed the use of psychologists to help the team determine which way they would argue the case.
In 2011, the NAACP awarded Branton the William Robert Ming Advocacy Award due to his willingness to work pro bono on behalf of the people.
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