Celebrating Black Women in Law this Black History Month
February is Black History Month. To celebrate, we’re paying tribute to some of the most influential Black women trailblazers of the 20th and 21st centuries who have worked in the legal field. You likely already know who the first Black and the first woman Vice President of the United States is. But do you know who became the first African American woman judge in the United States? Or which woman became the first African American female lawyer ever to practice law in the U.S.?
Check out the list below to learn more about some of the most famous Black women in the field of law.
Six Black Women Who Made Legal History
- Charlotte Ray – Born in 1850, Charlotte Ray became the first African American female lawyer to practice law in the U.S. after graduating from Howard University. She was later admitted to the Washington D.C. bar in 1887. Ray was also known for her activism in the women’s suffrage movement as part of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the National Association of Colored Women.
- Blanche E. Braxton – The first African American female admitted to the Massachusetts State Bar in 1923, Blanche E. Braxton also became the first Black woman admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts.
- Dorothy Crockett – After graduating from New England Law | Boston in 1931 with a bachelor of laws degree, Dorothy Crockett became the first African American female to pass the state bar and practice law in Rhode Island in 1932.
- Jane Bolin – Known perhaps most famously for being the first Black female to earn a law degree from Yale Law School in 1931, Jane Bolin was indeed a legal trailblazer. After becoming the first African American woman to work in New York City’s legal department, Bolin became the first Black woman judge in the United States. She served on the New York bench for 40 years.
- Kamala Harris – Elected as the 49th Vice President of the United States in 2021, Kamala Harris became the first African American person and the first woman in history to hold this office. Before becoming President of the United States Joseph Biden’s V.P., Harris served in the U.S. Senate. There, in 2017, she became the first Indian American and just the second Black woman elected to the Senate. Harris started her legal career at Hastings College, where she graduated with a law degree in 1989 and later became California’s attorney general.
- Michelle Obama – Former First Lady Michelle Obama—voted one of the most influential and most admired women in history by numerous organizations—first began her legal career after receiving her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1988. Michelle Obama served in both public and private office in Chicago, Illinois, her hometown, before becoming First Lady in 2008. She worked as the assistant commissioner for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, founded the Chicago branch of Public Allies, and served in many high-level positions at the University of Chicago, including V.P. of community and external affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Legacy of Past and Present Black Women Lawyers
While these trailblazers and many other Black women have made great professional achievements paving the way for future generations, there is still a stark lack of representation in the legal field when it comes to people of color. But with the help of non-profit organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, diversity in the field of law, including judicial and executive appointments, are improving with each passing year.
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