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; 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 Vicksburg, Mississippi. 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 Chicago, Illinois, from 1923 to 1945. 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. He recruited young lawyers to work on the NAACP's litigation campaigns, building connections between Howard's and Harvard's university law schools.