National Black History Month

First African American Female Lawyer in the United States (1850 – 1911)

Charlotte E. Ray was the first African-American female lawyer in the United States, first female admitted to the District of Columbia Bar, and the first woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia.

Ray graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1872 and opened her own law office. Her appointment to practice law was noted in the Woman’s Journal and as one of the Women of the Century. Ray pleaded the case of Gadley vs. Gadley, where she defended an uneducated woman petitioning for divorce from an abusive husband.

Because of the prejudice against women and African-Americans, the law office was short-lived. Ray went on to become a teacher in Brooklyn, where she was involved in the women’s suffrage movement and joined the National Association of Colored Women.

Maynard Shareholder and Alabama’s First African-American U.S. Attorney

Kenyen Brown is an attorney and Shareholder in Maynard’s Mobile, Alabama office and the first African-American to serve as United States Attorney for the state of Alabama. In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Brown to serve as a U. S. Attorney.

Brown graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law with his Juris Doctor and started his career in the Montgomery County, Alabama District Attorney’s office in 1995. In 1996, he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Mobile as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. Three years later, Brown joined the staff of the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee in Washington, D.C., where he conducted numerous high profile Congressional ethics investigations and lead the Committee’s training and compliance efforts. He continued on to the U.S. House Ethics Committee as Acting Chief Counsel and Staff Director in 2007.

First African-American District Attorney in the State of Alabama

Lynneice O. Washington is a lawyer, former municipal court judge, and the first African-American woman to become District Attorney in the State of Alabama and Jefferson County, Alabama. She was elected District Attorney for the Bessemer Cutoff District of Jefferson County in November of 2016. Washington graduated from Auburn University at Montgomery and Miles Law School.

In 2010, during her district judgeship campaign, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She lost the election in November 2010 but was appointed presiding judge over the Bessemer Municipal court in February 2011. She is a breast cancer survivor of almost ten years – September 2020.

“I know I am here for a reason and only for a season. In my season, I have purposed myself to always seek justice and do all that I can to help improve our community, and to make those who have sacrificed so much for me to have this opportunity to serve, proud.”

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court (1908 – 1993)

Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American justice to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second District. Marshall was then appointed, only four years later by President Lyndon B. Johnson, as the United States Solicitor General, and subsequently to Associate Justice, where he served until 1991. Prior to becoming Associate Justice, Marshall successfully argued several Supreme Court cases, including Brown v. Board of Education.

Marshall graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1933, after which he established a private legal practice in Baltimore, Maryland. Marshall went on to found the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where he argued several cases before the Supreme Court which held that racial segregation in public education is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

Public Interest Lawyer and Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative

Bryan Stevenson is a public interest lawyer and founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Stevenson graduated in 1985 from Harvard Law School. He earned his J.D. as well as a master’s degree in Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

After graduation, Stevenson moved to Atlanta, Georgia and joined the Southern Center for Human Rights to represent death-row inmates throughout the American South. In 1989, he was appointed to run the Alabama office in the state capital of Montgomery. When the United States Congress ended its funding for the death-penalty defense, Stevenson converted the center into the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). As of today, Stevenson and his staff “have won reversals, relief, or release from prison for over 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row and won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced.” (Sourced from EJI).

Stevenson’s story was recently told in the 2019 feature film Just Mercy which was based on his memoir Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

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