Guest Blog by Courtney Boykin, 3L at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law
February is always a special month for me.
Not only does the month hold Valentine’s Day, but it also serves as black history month. As an African American women, I treat the month of February as a time of reflection. I always try to find new African American pioneers to highlight, especially during this month. When it comes to African American lawyers, most people are familiar with Thurgood Marshall. His work and the positions he held are well documented. However, before Marshall presented Brown v. Board of Education or became a Supreme Court Justice, Charlotte E. Ray and Macon Bolling Allen blazed a trail for African American attorneys.
Charlotte E. Ray
Charlotte E. Ray was the first female African American licensed attorney. She graduates at Howard University School of Law in 1872 and was admitted to the bar in the District of Columbia. Her admittance also serves as one of the first women to be admitted to the D.C. bar. Eventually, her work brought her to the steps of the Supreme Court, making her the first woman to present a case to the Supreme Court.
Macon Bolling Allen
Prior to Ray, there was Macon Bolling Allen. Allen is considered to be the first black licensed attorney in the US. He studied law, took the bar, and became a licensed attorney in Maine around 1844. He had great difficulties finding work in Maine due to the fact that he was a black lawyer. A year after passing the bar in Maine, he moved to Boston in an effort to find work and passed the Massachusetts state bar exam, after having to walk fifty miles to the testing site. He eventually opened the first black law office in the United States with another black attorney, Robert Morris.
I, personally, owe a great deal of gratitude to both Ray and Allen. Their courage and tenacity to persevere through the turmoil of racial segregation and animosity ease my journey to becoming a lawyer as an African American woman.