Robert Benham is the first African American justice to serve on the Supreme Court of Georgia. Benham was born September 25, 1946, in Cartersville, Georgia, to Jesse Knox and Clarence Benham. He is the great-grandchild of enslaved people.
After graduation from Summer Hill High School in 1963, Benham attended college at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Tuskegee in 1967. After attending Harvard University for a time, Benham earned a Juris Doctor at the University of Georgia School of Law in 1970. He was the second African American to earn a law degree from the University of Georgia. Benham earned a Master of Laws from the University of Virginia in 1989.
In 1970, Benham returned to Cartersville and began practicing law. He also served in the United States Army Reserve at this time, attaining the rank of captain. In 1984, Benham was elected to the Georgia State Court of Appeals. He became the first African American to sit as a judge on that court and the first African American to win a statewide election in Georgia since Reconstruction. Benham was appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia by Governor Joe Frank Harris in 1989.
Benham is involved in numerous national, regional, and local legal associations. He has served as the president of the Bartow County Bar Association and the Society for Alternative Dispute Resolution and the vice president of the Georgia Conference of Black Lawyers. He has served as the chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Drug Awareness and Prevention and the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism. He has also been a board member of the Georgia Association of Trial Lawyers and the Federal Lawyers Association. He is a trustee of the Georgia Legal History Foundation.
Benham has received a number of awards for his service, including recognition as one of the “100 Most Influential Georgians” by Georgia Trend magazine and one of the “100 Most Influential Blacks in America” by Ebony. Justice Robert Benham is married to the former Nell Dodson, also of Cartersville. They have two sons.