Hattiesburg Judge discusses early years

By Karrie Leggett – email | bio

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - "It was just understood in the family that education was the doorway to opportunity," said Gambrell.

It was an understanding Deborah Gambrell said her father a principal, and her mother, a teacher never let her forget.

"Being the oldest of six children, it was always understood that we were gonna pursue college careers. It wasn't a matter of are you going. It was a matter of where are you going," said Gambrell.

The determination of Gambrell's parents helped carry her from a small segregated school to the newly integrated Southern Miss of the late 60's.

"I went to Southern Miss in 68. It was a very difficult transition for me at first. My first couple of years were very uncomfortable years in that we were a small minority of students," said Gambrell.

Gambrell may have been in the minority, but her next decision was nothing close to minor.

"My dad kept saying this is an opportunity you've got make the best of it, and I did. That was one of the reasons I became a Dixie Darling. I just wanted to prove that women of color could be darling from Dixie too. I was making a statement. Didn't think that I would get selected but I did and I thoroughly enjoyed it after I was selected," said Gambrell.

Proving points and making a statement was what lead Gambrell to her next role as a lawyer.

"I think law came into play with me after Martin Luther King's assassination and Bobby Kennedy's assassination. I said I want to do something that will make a difference. I want to be a civil rights attorney. I will never forget my YMCA state coordinator said,"Why do you want to be a civil right attorney? Why don't you just be an attorney and be the best attorney you can be?", " said Gambrell.

Striving to be the best , wanting to make a difference and proving she could handle being a female litigator amongst a majority of men is what helped Gambrell achieve 32 years as a lawyer, and lead to her latest accomplishment as the 10th District Chancery Court Judge filing the remaining term of the late James H. C. Thomas, Jr.

"Fortunately the governor saw fit to appoint me to this position and I am going to try to leave up to the expectations that he and other people have placed in me," said Gambrell.

Gambrell says her position allows her to help people, and give a message to a younger generation.

"I think this generation needs to understand that nothing is accomplished in life without hard work. That is what the civil rights movement will teach you, that you have to be constant and vigilant and diligent in your efforts to succeed. If not the things that people have worked so hard for will be snatched from you," said Gambrell.

Copyright 2011 WDAM. All rights reserved.