Rufus Calvin Kuykendall (1903-1977)

Indiana counties
Indiana counties
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Rufus Calvin Kuykendall was an attorney, politician, and one of the first African Americans to be elected judge in Indiana’s Marion County Superior Court.

Kuykendall was born on September 24, 1903 in Indianapolis, Indiana to John, a former slave from Tennessee, and Belle (Jackson) Kuykendall. Kuykendall had one sibling, a sister, Almyra. Kuykendall attended Booker T. Washington School #17 and graduated from Shortridge High School. Thereafter, at the urging of his father, Kuykendall enrolled at Indiana University, in 1921 and majored in History and Political Science. Kuykendall was forced to drop out of school several times to earn money to pay for his education.

After graduation Kuykendall’s first ambition was to become a teacher at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. Due to his lack of experience he was denied the job. Subsequently, he accepted the only available job he could find as a waiter at the former Servin Hotel. His wife Ethel, who was an educator at Crispus Attucks High School, encouraged him to go back to school to get his law degree at Indiana University.

Kuykendall entered Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis in 1940 at the age of 37 and graduated two years later in 1942, fifteen years after he had earned his bachelor’s degree. Upon passing of the bar exam in April 1942, he opened a practice in the Walker Building in downtown Indianapolis. He served the City of Indianapolis as a deputy prosecutor for six years, a public defender for two years, and finally as the assistant city attorney.

A lifelong supporter of the Republican Party, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Kuykendall to serve as a consultant to the U.S. Commission for the United National Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1954. In 1958, Kuykendall served for one year as assistant staff director for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as the director of the Office of Laws, Plans and Research from April 1959 to February 1960. Kuykendall was unsuccessful in his run for judge in 1962 and for the city council in 1963. In 1967 Kuykendall was elected a Marion County Indiana Superior Court Judge, serving two terms until 1974. In 1970 Kuykendall served in the Nixon Administration as the presiding officer of the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Council on African Affairs.

Kuykendall was active in Republican politics, holding several party positions which included precinct committeeman of the 7th ward and assistant to the State Republican chair. In 1957, Kuykendall was named by the Indiana NAACP as “Man of the Year.”

Kuykendall was involved in several organizations and boards including the Indianapolis Urban League, the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society, Family Service Association of Indianapolis, and the Indianapolis Citizen’s School Committee. He was a member of the American National and Indiana Bar Associations and President of the Marion County Bar Association. Additionally, he was a member of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Kappa Alpha Psi and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities and a member of the former Juvenile Aid Division advisory Committee.

Rufus Calvin Kuykendall died on November 4, 1977 at the age of 74. He was survived by his wife of 38 years, Clemie Ethel (Ransom) Kuykendall, who died on September 29, 1981.