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A Brief History of Black Lawyers in Kansas: The Sayers Family

Posted By Sara E. Rust-Martin, Tuesday, February 27, 2018


A Brief History of Black Lawyers in Kansas: The Sayers Family

 At the conclusion of Black History Month, we want to highlight one dynamic legal family and their contributions to the Kansas bar.

 It is difficult to know many of the details in documenting the activities of black lawyers in Kansas prior to the early 20th century.

But, we do know that at that time W.L. Sayers and John Q. Sayers of Hill City, E. Clark of Lawrence, T. Bell of Leavenworth and I.F. Bradley, Sr. of Kansas City had established "enviable reputations as able and fearless trial lawyers, Clark and Bradley also served as Justices of the Peace in Lawrence and Kansas City."

The Sayers family is one of the most distinguished in the history of the Kansas bar. The family moved to Nicodemus from Nebraska in the late 1880"s and even with many obstacles in their path toward formal education the two sons, W.L. and John Q., "gained fame in legal circles. W.L. began to teach school at the age of 16 and he started to read law in the office of G.W. Jones in Hill City shortly thereafter. Before the turn of the century, he was admitted to the bar, engaged in private practice, and in 1900 was elected county attorney. He won the office again in 1912 and 1914. in addition to the practice of law, he engaged in innumerable business and civic activities."

"John Q. Sayers, seven years his brother's junior, also served as Graham county attorney and with W.L. built a wide-ranging practice. Both were highly successful in the courtroom and it was reported that in one term of the district court in Graham County 32 cases appeared before the bench. W.L. arguing for one side or the other, won every case. He did not talk much about his successes but he did mention once that John had beaten him several times."

John was also willing to comment on his brother's achievements, telling the Kansas City Star on one occasion: "The trouble is he's twice as good as ever when he comes up against me in court...You never know what he's got up his sleeve until he breaks loose with it, at the most embarrassing moment possible." W. L. Sayers was recognized by one prominent white lawyer as he described Bill: " Bill is deceptively smoothe in the courtroom ...Bill leads witnesses into his confidence with his mild manners and magnetic charm until they have told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but, whether they originally intended to or not...He never forgets a case or a fact. In fact, he is a walking lawbook."

Another member of the family, W.L.'s son, Wendell, graduated from Washburn Law School, practiced law in Colorado, and has served with distinction in the Colorado attorney general's office.

The Sayers family clearly made a difference in the Kansas legal community, and they continue to do so. The Kansas Bar expresses gratitude to these early lawyers for their perseverance, dedication, and commitment to building a diverse, civic-minded, and accomplished legal community in Kansas.

Reference: Material for this post was derived from "Requisite Learning and Good Moral Character: A History of the Kansas Bench and Bar" written by Robert W. Richmond of the Kansas Historical Society and published by the Kansas Bar Association in 1982.

Tags:  Black History Month; African American Legal Pionee 

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Learn More about Early African American Legal Pioneers

Posted By Sara E. Rust-Martin, Monday, February 26, 2018


In honor of Black History Month, we've pulled out three legal pioneers to share with you. These were some of the first African American lawyers and they laid the foundation for future generations, but it was quite a struggle. When Macon Bolling Allen became the first African American licensed to practice law in the United States it was a testament to his strength of character. And, when Irvin Charles Mollison began to practice law as an African American man it became so difficult that he petitioned for a judicial position. Finally, Charles Hamilton Houston served as the Dean of Howard University School of Law and worked on civil rights in this country becoming known as "the man who killed Jim Crow."

We don't learn much about these early pioneers and leaders of our profession, so in honor of Black History Month, and because these stories are important to our larger story, I am sharing them with you. I do not have any African American Women here. Unfortunately, it was much later when women were able to immerse themselves in the professional world, particularly women of color. But, during Women's History Month next month, you will learn more about some of the amazing legal minds of our female pioneers. So, stay tuned!


The First African American man to both be licensed to practice law and hold a judicial position in the United States:  Macon Bolling Allen

Macon Bolling Allen (born Allen Macon Bolling;[1] August 4, 1816 – June 11, 1894) is believed to be both the first African American licensed to practice law and to hold a judicial position in the United States. Allen passed the bar exam in Maine in 1844 and became a Massachusetts Justice of the Peace in 1848. He moved to South Carolina after the American Civil War to practice law and was elected as a probate court judge in 1874. Following the Reconstruction Era, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as an attorney for the Land and Improvement Association.


The First African American man appointed to a position in the federal judiciary:  Irvin Charles Mollison

Irvin Charles Mollison was born on December 24, 1898, in VicksburgMississippi. He received a Bachelor of Philosophy degree in 1920 from the University of Chicago. He received a Juris Doctorate in 1923 from the University of Chicago Law School. He then worked in private practice in ChicagoIllinois, from 1923 to 1945.[1] Mollison was the first African American appointed to a position in the federal judiciary whose position was posthumously converted into an Article III judgeship. Judge Mollison also was the first African American to serve on the United States Customs Court. He was appointed by President Truman, and confirmed by the United States Senate without a single dissenting vote.


Graduate of Harvard Law School; Dean of Howard University School of Law; and Instrumental in Dismantling Jim Crow Laws:  Charles Hamilton Houston

Charles Hamilton Houston (September 3, 1895 – April 22, 1950) was a prominent African-American lawyer, Dean of Howard University Law School, and NAACP first special counsel, or Litigation Director. A graduate of Amherst College and Harvard Law School, Houston played a significant role in dismantling Jim Crow laws, especially attacking segregation in schools and racial housing covenants. He earned the title "The Man Who Killed Jim Crow".

Houston is also well known for having trained and mentored a generation of black attorneys, including Thurgood Marshall, future director of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund and appointed as Supreme Court Justice.[3] He recruited young lawyers to work on the NAACP's litigation campaigns, building connections between Howard's and Harvard's university law schools.

Tags:  Black History Month; African American Legal Pionee 

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