Throughout our nation’s history, there have been countless movements, laws, codes, and events that have shaped the lives of African-American people all over the United States. There have been powerful counter-movements & inspirational figures that have risen above discrimination and served as a beacon of hope & action for the Black community.
In honor of Black History Month, let’s take a look at some of these notable figures in American Law history— those who have influenced not only the lives of their fellow black Americans but have also affected the advancement of American law and its society as a whole today.
Macon Bolling Allen
Recognized as the first practicing African-American attorney in the United States, Allen also made history by being the first African-American to become Justice of the Peace. After the civil war, he was elected as a judge in South Carolina in 1873 and 1876.
When he moved to Washington DC, Macon Bolling Allen joined and practiced at the Land and Improvement Association.
Charles Hamilton Houston
Famously known as “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow,” Charles Hamilton Houston was instrumental in dismantling discriminatory laws against Black people after the Reconstruction.
Houston became the first special counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He also helped in founding the National Bar Association.
Because of his tenacity in challenging the “separate but equal” doctrine, Houston became a significant figure in advocating for anti-discriminatory laws, especially in education. Aside from his civil rights work, he is also credited with mentoring other notable figures in law, such as Thurgood Marshall and Oliver Hill.
Another inspiring and tenacious character, Jane Bolin was the first African-American female judge in the United States and the first Black woman to graduate from Yale Law School.
Throughout her career, Bolin fought for children’s rights and education and served as a board member for the NAACP, the Child Welfare League, and the National Urban League.
Charlotte E Ray
Charlotte E. Ray was the first Black American female attorney in the United States, the first woman to be admitted to the District of Columbia Bar, as well as the first woman to practice before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia.
She was a member of the National Association of Colored Women and also participated in the women’s suffrage movement in 1848.
An attorney and educator, Anita Hill became a contributory figure in raising awareness about workplace sexual harassment as well as motivating women to enter politics.
Hill worked for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she worked closely with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In 1991, Anita Hill testified against Thomas for acts of sexual harassment in the workplace, which inspired a spike of workplace sexual harassment claims by 50%.
In the following years, Congress passed a bill that granted harassment victims the right to federal damage awards & other compensation.
While serving as an educator of social policy, law & women’s studies at Brandeis University, Hill also serves as a part of the Commission on Sexual Harassment & Advancing Equality in the Workplace.
Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American justice in the Supreme Court of the United States, serving for 24 years from 1967-1991. As an instrumental figure against legal segregation, he founded and served as the executive for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense & Educational Fund, was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1961, as the US Solicitor General and then later as the Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court in 1967.
A diligent defender of civil rights, Thurgood Marshall argued for key cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
Barack Obama set history by becoming the first African-American president of the United States from 2009 to 2017 and the first Black president of Harvard Law Review. Before serving as the 44th US President, Obama spent 11 years as an Illinois & US senator, a civil rights attorney, and an educator at the University of Chicago Law School.
During his presidential term, Obama promoted advancements in LGBTQ, race, and gender equality. In 2009, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Kamala Harris has also set history by being the first female Black American Vice President. Having Asian and Jamaican ancestry, Harris was also the first Indian American US senator and the second African-American woman.
In 2010, she also became the first female and first Black Attorney General in California. Throughout her career, Kamala Harris has and continues to advocate for LGBTQ, gender, and race equality in the United States.
These are only a mere few of the numerous notable African-American figures throughout American Law history, with more and more Black voices entering and advocating for equal rights in recent years.
We encourage you to learn more about African-American voices and icons that shaped history and law. At SWC Law, we can help you with your legal needs. Learn more by scheduling a consultation with us.