Pennsylvania’s First Black Judge Was No Stranger to the Amish

By Clinton Martin

In October of 1947, Pennsylvania’s governor, James Duff, appointed Herbert Millen to complete a term on the bench in Philadelphia. Judge Millen was a Lancaster–County native, and notably the State’s first Black jurist. 

Judge Millen was born in the City of Lancaster, though most of his youth was spent in the nearby small town of Strasburg, a historic community still today surrounded by Amish farmland. Millen was the first Black student to attend Strasburg High School, from which he graduated in 1906 as valedictorian. He went on to study at Lincoln University (America’s first Historically–Black–College.)

When Judge Millen decided he wanted to go to college, he had to earn the money to enroll. In Strasburg, especially at that time, when a young man wanted to earn money, he hired himself out to a local farmer. Millen worked on the farm of Galen Barr, where he did all manner of farm work, but especially excelled at lucrative, but labor–intensive, tobacco. Millen is quoted as saying “By the time I was 14, I could follow a full–grown man spudding tobacco. I wasn’t so fast on cutting it, but I sure could spud.”

Spudding tobacco is the action of spearing it onto a stick so that it can be hung up to air–dry, such as in the rafters of barns. Descendants of Galen Barr still have a farm south of Strasburg (and a stand at Central Market in Lancaster City where you can buy their produce.)  

Judge Millen was not only proud of his “spudding” talent; he was also decidedly proud of being from Lancaster County and was even fluent in PA Dutch. He very likely honed his language skills working with his Amish and Mennonite neighbors in the tobacco fields. His great–grandparents, John and Susan Seachrist Warner, were German speakers as well, so it may have been handed down in his family. 

— Clinton Martin