In honor of African American History Month, the Legal Division is saluting the accomplishments of African Americans in the legal community. This is just a sampling of information that we hope you find to be educational and insightful.
Unless otherwise noted, the citations for the information written below are contained in the hyperlinked terms.
First African American Lawyers
- This link from the Just the Beginning Foundation has a chart that lists by state the first African Americans admitted to practice law.
- Macon Bolling Allen (1816-1894) earned his license to practice law in the state of Maine on July 3, 1844, thus becoming the first African American licensed to practice law in the United States.
- John Swett Rock ( 1825-1866) was the first African American man to be admitted to practice for the Supreme Court of the United States, in 1865.
- Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911) was the first female African American lawyer in the United States. She graduated from Howard University Law School in 1872 and became the first female practicing lawyer in Washington, D.C.
- Violette Anderson (1882-1937) was the first African American woman to be admitted to practice for the Supreme Court of the United States, in 1926.
First African American Judges
- The Federal Judicial Center has a list of “Milestones of Judicial Service.” Included in that list are the accomplishments of the three of the first African American judges.
- Please note that the term “good behavior” listed below comes from Article III, Section 1 of the United States Constitution which basically means, “life tenure.”
- William Henry Hastie (1904-1976) became the first African American to serve as a judge appointed during good behavior when he was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1950. Hastie had served a fixed term as judge of the U.S. District Court for the Virgin Islands from 1937 to 1939.
- The first African American to serve on a U.S. district court as a judge appointed during good behavior was James B. Parsons (1961-1981), who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in 1961.
- Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) was the first African American Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. He was appointed in 1967. Marshall previously served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Find out more!
- The African American History Month webpage at the Law Library of Congress:
- The American Bar Association’s Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity
- The history and mission of the National Black Law Students Association
- NAACP Legal History
- National Bar Association – Founded in 1925, the National Bar Association (NBA) is the nation’s oldest and largest association of African American lawyers and judges.
African American History Month is the entire month of February. Take a moment to learn about these important milestones in both legal and African American history!
Tracy Z. Maleeff (filling in for Jennifer Dismukes Vail, Diversity Committee Chair)
Legal Division, Past Chair (2012)