Legal Trailblazers in Honor of Black History Month
To recognize Black History Month, Spotts Fain will be spotlighting a few of the many Black attorneys who had a significant impact on equal access to justice in the United States. We hope you will join us in recognizing the life, work, and legacies of Macon Bolling Allen, Charlotte E. Ray, Jane Bolin, Fred Gray and Thurgood Marshall.
Macon Bolling Allen
Macon Bolling Allen (August 4, 1816 – October 15, 1894) is believed to be the first African American to become a lawyer, argue before a jury, and hold a judicial position in the United States. Allen passed the bar exam in Maine in 1844 and became a Massachusetts Justice of the Peace in 1847. He moved to South Carolina after the American Civil War to practice law and was elected as a judge in 1873 and again in 1876. Following the Reconstruction Era, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he continued practicing law. Learn more about the life of Macon Bolling Allen here.
Charlotte E. Ray
Charlotte E. Ray (January 13, 1850 - January 11, 1911) became the first female African American lawyer in the U.S. in 1872. As both a Black person and a woman, she may have created a ruse when applying for admittance to the bar by using the name C.E. Ray. She was a crucial player in early abolitionist movements and the first woman to practice before the Supreme Court in the District of Columbia. Learn more about the life of Charlotte E. Ray here.
Jane Bolin (April 11, 1908 - January 8, 2007) was the first African-American woman to graduate from Yale Law School, earning her J.D. in 1931. In the 1930s, Jane Bolin became the first African-American woman to serve as assistant corporate counsel for New York City. In 1939, Jane Bolin became the first African-American female judge in the United States. Learn more about the life of Jane Bolin here.
Fred Gray (born December 14, 1930 - ) was an essential part of the U.S. civil rights movement. As a young Black lawyer, Gray provided legal counsel during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, defending Rosa Parks. He also worked closely with the NAACP and defended civil rights cases such as Gomillion v. Lightfoot and Dixon v. Alabama. Learn more about Fred Gray here.
The late Justice Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 – January 24, 1993) would be on any short list for the most consequential lawyer of the 20th century. His many successes, including his remarkable won-lost record as a Supreme Court advocate before he became a justice, included Brown vs. the Board of Education. Marshall served as Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from October 1967 until October 1991. Marshall was the Court's first African-American justice. Learn more about the life of Thurgood Marshall here.
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