(June 29, 1943 – Mar. 5, 2008). Judge Zilthia Mae “Z. Mae” Perkins Jimison was a trailblazer and pioneer in the legal system.

Jimison was born one of nine children in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her father, an evangelist, inspired Mae’s love of reading and learning. She was among the first African Americans to attend IPS No. 43 before completing accelerated coursework at Shortridge High School. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Indiana State University in Terre Haute and her JD from the Ohio State University. She was married for 43 years and had three children.

The campaign flyer includes two images of Jimison interacting with people.
Campaign flyer for Z. Mae Jimison, ca. 1990s Credit: N. Joy Toliver View Source

Jimison’s illustrious legal career began as a trial attorney before serving as a county judge in 1988. In 1991, she won election to the Indianapolis City-County Council as a Democrat at large, where she served through 1996. At the end of her term, she campaigned to be mayor and was the first African American candidate to win the primary from a major party. As a Democrat, Jimison competed against incumbent Republican Steven Goldsmith in the general election and lost (see Municipal Election Of 1995).

A campaign button that says "Jimison for mayor."
Jimison for Mayor, 1996

Republican governor Robert Orr then appointed Jimison as the first African American judge on the Marion County Superior Court, where she served from 1996 to 2002. During her tenure, she helped to create the Marion County Drug Treatment Court, which implemented a diversion program for non-violent drug offenders who would seek treatment for their addiction.

Among her professional accolades, Indiana State University awarded her its Distinguished Alumni Award, and Governor Joe Kernan presented her with Indiana’s Sagamore of the Wabash for her distinguished service to the state. She was deeply religious and known for her strong faith.

Revised May 2021

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