Celebrating African American Pioneers in the American Legal System

For more than two centuries, African American men and women have been working hard to fight for the rights of others. Since Macon Bolling Allen became the first black attorney and judge in the United States in 1816, more black men and women have been entering the practice of law.

For over 200 years, black men and women have made incredible contributions to the legal industry. As attorneys, judges, and politicians, they have affected positive change within the American legislative system. Attending some of the most prestigious law schools in the country, including Yale and Harvard, many would go on to hold important positions such as Senator, Attorney General, and even President of the United States. While these positions do carry a lot of weight, it is the men and women who work in the trenches every day who make a real difference. Here, we will discuss some of the most influential and pioneering lawyers in U.S. history.

Barack Obama

We would be remiss to not begin this tribute without mentioning the esteemed Barack Obama. Barack Obama began his illustrious career at Harvard Law School. He would go on to work as a civil rights attorney at the firm of Miner, Barnhill, and Galland. In 1996, he became senator of Illinois where he would serve for eight years. In 2004, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and ran for President in 2008. Obama would go on to win the presidency, becoming the first African American president in U.S. history. He served two terms and is still influential in both political and legal communities.

Loretta Lynch

Loretta Lynch was another graduate of Harvard Law School. She would join the U.S. Attorney’s office and stay there until 2017. She was the first African American female to hold the post of Attorney General. She was known for her involvement in civil rights law. After she retired as Attorney General, she would go on to work with the United Nations International Tribunal for Rwanda.

Clarence Thomas

Born in 1948, Clarence Thomas is the most senior associate justice on the United States Supreme Court. Appointed in 1991, he was not the first African American to serve as a Supreme Court Justice -that honor goes to Thurgood Marshall. However, Thomas has now served almost 10,000 days as a member of the highest court of the land. He went to Yale Law School and went on to work in the Missouri Attorney General’s office as Assistant Attorney General. He has also served as the Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Eric Holder, Jr.

Eric Holder Jr. was born in 1951. He attended Columbia Law School and first served as a law clerk at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He would later join the Department of Justice in 1976. Holder became the first African American Deputy Attorney General and was appointed by President Bill Clinton. He was also named the first black Attorney General under the Obama administration.

Jane Bolin

Jane Bolin attended Yale Law School becoming the first African American woman to attend the prestigious law school. She was also the first black woman to become a member of the New York City Bar Association. At the height of her career, in 1939, Bolin would go on to become a United States judge. She continued to work with the NAACP, National Urban League and Child Welfare League of America. Sadly, she passed away in 2007.

Celebrate Diversity in Today’s Legal World

Although February is National Black History month in the United States, it is important to consistently recognize and appreciate the diversity in today’s legal industry. While the men and women highlighted here were true pioneers in the field of law, we should celebrate the men and women who battle every day for the rights of others. It is estimated that currently, only 5 percent of attorneys in the United States are African American. At Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP we continue to move forward toward our collective goal of achieving true diversity and inclusion within the legal profession.

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