First District Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner III unveils the portrait of “Soggy” Sweat with artist Robbie Boyd in the Alcorn County Courthouse. / Staff photo by Bobby J. Smith
The community and members of the judiciary professions from across the state turned out for a tribute to the late “Soggy” Sweat at the Alcorn County Courthouse on Tuesday.
“The recognition of Judge Sweat has been a long time coming,” said First District Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner III, who presided over the tribute.
Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat Jr. was the author of the whiskey speech, a famous example of political oratory from the Prohibition era.
Gardner described Sweat as a great American and a much-needed reformer.
“When Judge Sweat took over as circuit judge there were needed changes made — real improvements and professionalism put into the lawyer business,” he said.
The tribute also included an unveiling of artist Robbie Boyd’s portrait of the celebrated local judge which will become a permanent fixture of the courtroom.
“It’s always an honor to be asked to paint someone, and even more this time because he means so much to you,” Boyd said. “I hope I have given you a portrait that reveals a little bit of the man.”
In addition to Gardner, the tribute brought together a who’s-who of Mississippi’s judiciary branch, including speakers Judge Neal B. Biggers, United States District judge for the Northern District of Mississippi; Judge William L. Waller Jr., the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court; Judge Randy G. Pierce, director of the Mississippi Judicial College and Judge Ed Perry, a former state representative from Oxford, who closed the tribute with a spirited rendition of Sweat’s famous speech.
During his brief speech, Biggers also emphasized Sweat’s accomplishments as a reformer.
“I like to think of Soggy not only as the politician he was — he was one of the best — but I like to think of him as a reformer,” said Biggers.
Biggers cited the improvements made in the Alcorn County Courthouse as an example of Sweat’s legacy.
Sweat served two terms as the local district attorney beginning in 1955 and served eight years on the bench as a circuit judge beginning in 1966. He gave the oft-cited “whiskey speech” when he was 24 years old, during the last year of his term in the Mississippi House of Representatives, when Prohibition was one of the most controversial issues of the day.
Sweat died on Feb. 23, 1996.