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Portrait unveiling honors Cole's achievements, legacy

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Janice Cole and her husband Superior Court Judge J.C. Cole stand in front of a portrait of Janice Cole hanging in the Perquimans County Courthouse Annex Friday. She was the first woman and first African-American to be elected as a judge in the seven county judicial district.

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By Peter Williams
The Perquimans Weekly

Sunday, February 17, 2019

HERTFORD — The judicial legacy of Janice McKenzie Cole was celebrated Friday when her portrait was unveiled here in a courthouse ceremony.

Cole won a landslide victory in 1990 to become the first woman and the first black person to be elected as a District Court judge in the first judicial district. The district includes Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.

She held the bench until 1994 when President Bill Clinton nominated her to be a U.S. Attorney in North Carolina. She was the first female African American to serve in that role. It made her the highest-ranking federal law enforcement official over 44 of the state's 100 counties.

On that issue, Cole said her appointment allowed her to help others.

“As U.S. Attorney, it gave me the opportunity to give opportunity to other people,” Cole said.

One of those who got an opportunity because of Cole was Felice Corpening. Cole hired her, and today Corpening is also an assistant U.S. Attorney.

Before now, there have been no portraits hanging in either the historic, 1825-built Perquimans courthouse or the courthouse annex next door. The Cole portrait will hang in the newer annex, while in the older courthouse there will be a two-by-three-foot quartz marker in her honor.

The stone marker in the older courthouse will be only the third one hanging there. One is dedicated to James Coston Skinner who lived from 1811 until 1880 and was clerk of court from 1858 until 1868. The other is for Thomas Gregory Skinner who lived from 1842 until 1907. He served in the Confederate Army from 1861 until 1865. He also was a three-term congressman and a North Carolina Senator.

Cole’s marker reads:

Janice McKenzie Cole

First African-American and first woman district court judge first judicial district, 1990-1994.

United States Attorney Eastern District of N.C. 1994-2001

County Commissioner 2010-2016.

There is a general trend to hang portraits in courthouses in the district, but the process is not uniform. Sometimes the 1st Judicial District Bar will do it, and in this case, individuals started the process and the funding was raised through the Bar. There are portraits hanging in courthouses in Pasquotank, Camden, Dare and Chowan counties.

Friday’s ceremony also included the award of the Long Leaf Pine award to Cole. Secretary of Commerce Tony Copeland made the presentation. It was the second Long Leaf Pine award for Cole.

The portrait of Cole is from a photograph taken by J. Aaron Trotman.

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