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Asian American pioneer Harry Low dies at 91

Harry Low, one of the first Asian Americans to pass the bar in California and the first to be named a San Francisco municipal court judge has died.

His family confirmed to the San Francisco Standard that he passed away Thursday with his wife Mayling Low and daughter Kathy, Larry, and Allan Low by his side.

According to Berkeley Law, after Low graduated from the University of California School of Law (formerly Boalt) in 1955, he became one of five Asian Americans to pass the California Bar.

After working in the state attorney general’s office for a decade, Governor Pat Brown appointed him San Francisco’s first Asian American municipal court judge. He ascended to the Superior Court in 1974 and rose to the Court of Appeal before retiring in 1992.

Veteran San Francisco reporter David Louie posted a video on Facebook crediting Low for paving the way for him to become one of the first Asian American TV news reports in San Francisco in the 1970’s. Low, along with others, met with station executives and even threatened lawsuits to open the door for Asian Americans in journalism.

Christopher Chow, the first Asian American to be hired as a television news reporter in San Francisco, contacted AsAmNews to inform us of the news.

Suzanne Kai, a documentary filmmaker and also one of the first Asian American television reporters in San Francisco is a niece of Low’s.

family photo

In 2007, Low received the San Franciscan of the Year award, according to an article in Asian Week.

 “Justice Low is a pioneer in the legal profession,” said Cedric Chao, a litigation partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP and a president of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area in the 1980’s, said to Asian Week.  “He has moved effortlessly in between the Asian community and the mainstream legal and judicial community, serving as an effective bridge.”  

Low talked about the racism he faced in his day during a 2013 interview with Rick Quan, now a news anchor at KITV in Honolulu.

“The discriminatory practices that I ran across were pretty much mitigated by the fact that I was doing very well and got the attention of others and leaders in that community and those in government,” Low said.

Lillian Sing, the first Asian American woman judge in Northern California, told the San Francisco Standard that “she looked up to him.”

“I will miss him terribly,” she said.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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