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Judge Olly Neal

Judge Olly Neal was born in the New Hope Community of Lee County on a small family farm. He attended segregated Lee County Public Schools, graduating from Moton High School in 1958.

Following high school graduation, Judge Neal attended LeMoyne College for 2 ½ years during which time he was actively involved in challenging segregation in public facilities in the city of Memphis. On March 19, 1960, five weeks following the North Carolina A&T Sit-In origination, the Memphis Sit-ins began with Judge Neal in a leadership role. Judge Neal earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemistry from LeMoyne-Owen College in 1974 and a Juris Doctor from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law in 1979.

A Vietnam veteran, Judge Neal served in the U. S. Army, attaining the rank of Specialist Five (E-5). His company shipped out to Vietnam as a part of the major U. S. build-up for the Vietnam War.

Judge Neal worked for the U. S. Postal Service. He also worked for the Glidden Company as a paint chemist where he created the color Harvest Gold, and with St. Jude/MAP – South Supplemental Feeding Program as supervisor. In 1969/1970, he helped organize and became the first administrator (CEO) of the Lee County Cooperative Clinic, a patient-controlled, community health center. While in that position, he also assisted fifteen low-income rural communities in building safe water and/or wastewater facilities. During the early 1970’s, Judge Neal actively participated in an African-American Lee County Movement that effectively challenged the total exclusion of African Americans from the economic and political affairs of the County.

After graduating from law school just prior to his 38th birthday in 1979, Judge Neal practiced law in Marianna, Arkansas until 1991. During his private practice tenure, Judge Neal was active in substantial “Voting Rights” litigation. He was an attorney in the successful challenge to the statewide districting plan which resulted in eighteen districts with majority African-American voting age populations. Additionally, he was a plaintiff in the case challenging the way Arkansas trial judges were elected resulting in a consent decree allowing (10) African Americans to be elected to the Arkansas trial bench.

In 1991, he became Arkansas’s first African-American (District) Prosecuting Attorney. He went on to be elected Circuit Judge in the First Judicial District. In 1996, he began an appointed term on the Arkansas Court of Appeals and was subsequently elected to a position on that court where he served until his retirement on January 1, 2007.

On February 1, 2010, Judge Neal accepted an appointment to serve as Circuit Judge of the First Judicial Circuit through December 31, 2010. That same year, he was recognized as Outstanding Trial Judge by the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association.

Judge Neal has served as Member and Chairman of the following organizations: Lee County School District, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, National Demonstration Water Project, and Arkansas Land & Farm Development Corporation. He served on the Board of Directors of the Arkansas Judicial Council and was awarded the Council’s Community Service Award in 2003.