February is Black History Month, a month where we recognize the amazing contributions of African Americans who have served as role models, leaders, and activists in our communities.
As attorneys, we have a unique opportunity to advance public interest, so we would be remiss if we did not reflect on the trailblazing attorneys who opened the doors for many of us today.
This month, we take time to reflect on the inspirational African-American attorneys who overcame obstacles and paved the trails for attorneys in later generations.
Macon Bolling Allen (1816-94) was the first African-American attorney in the United States. An Indiana native, Allen was licensed to practice in Maine, Massachusetts (the first African-American man licensed in each state state), and South Carolina.
Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911) was the first African-American female attorney in the United States. Ray graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1872 and was admitted to the District of Columbia bar in the same year. Ray had her own practice for several years.
Jane Bolin (1908-2007) was the first African-American female judge in the United States. Additionally, Bolin was the first African-American woman to earn a law degree from Yale. In 1939, she was sworn in as a judge in New York City and was re-elected for three additional 10-year terms. Bolin was a fierce advocate for children and helped change segregationist policies.
Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005) was the first African-American woman to win election to the New York State Senate (1964), and the first African-American woman to serve as a federal judge (United States District Court for the Southern District of New York 1966). Motley helped draft the complaint in Brown v. Board of Education. In a key decision in 1978, Motley ruled that a female reporter must be allowed in the locker room when interviewing MLB players.
Groundbreakers in the Legal Profession
Each of these attorneys was the first in a special way. Without their groundbreaking achievements, the legal profession may not have produced some of the attorneys that we recognize as icons in the profession today.
The members of the NRLD salute these amazing lawyers.