Law

Scottsboro boys arrested

The Scottsboro Boys, with attorney Samuel Leibowitz, under guard by the state militia, 1932

The Scottsboro Boys, with attorney Samuel Leibowitz, under guard by the state militia, 1932

The Scottsboro Boys were nine black teenagers accused of rape in Alabama in 1931. The landmark set of legal cases from this incident dealt with racism and the right to a fair trial. The case included a frameup, an all-white jury, rushed trials, an attempted lynching, an angry mob, and is an example of an overall miscarriage of justice.

On March 25, 1931, several people were hoboing on a freight train traveling between Chattanooga and Memphis, Tennessee. Several white teenagers jumped off the train and reported to the sheriff that they had been attacked by a group of black teenagers. The sheriff deputized a posse, stopped and searched the train at Paint Rock, Alabama, arrested the black teenagers, and found two young white women who accused the teenagers of rape.

The case was first heard in Scottsboro, Alabama in three rushed trials, where the defendants received poor legal representation. All but thirteen-year-old Roy Wright were convicted of rape and sentenced to death, the common sentence in Alabama at the time for black men convicted of raping white women. But with help from the American Communist Party, the case was appealed.  Continue reading

Muriel O. Farmer

Muriel O. Farmer

Muriel O. Farmer

Born December 2, 1917 Muriel, the daughter of a Chicago policeman, was one of the first women to graduate from the prestigious John Marshall Law School in Chicago, IL. After graduating from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana at the age of 21, she worked as a social worker while studying law. After passing the bar Muriel went into the legal profession full time and spent over 50 years practicing law, becoming one of the best known divorce lawyers in the state.

Oddly enough, two of her best friends, both black women, were also John Marshall graduates. Her cousin went on to become an acclaimed criminal lawyer (Bernice Z. Leaner) and her best friend went on to be Chicago’s first Black Alderwoman (Anna Langford).

Constance Baker Motley

Constance Motley

Constance Baker Motley was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1921. She received her bachelor’s degree from New York University in 1943, and graduated from the prestigious Columbia Law School in 1946.

Motley began her legal career as Thurgood Marshall’s law clerk at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, working at the forefront of the civil rights movement. In 1961, she became the first African-American woman to argue a case before the US Supreme Court, Hamilton v. State of Alabama, (1961). Although she lost her first case, Motley went on to argue before the Court nine more times, winning all nine cases.

Motley had other firsts in her long and distinguished career: in 1964 she became the first African-American woman in the New York State Senate; in 1965 she became the first woman (of any race) elected President of the Manhattan Borough; Continue reading

Violette Neatley Anderson

Violette N. Anderson

Violette N. Anderson was born July 16, 1882, in London, England. She and her parents, Richard and Marie Neatley, emigrated to the United States while Violette was a young girl, settling in Chicago. Violette graduated from Chicago’s North Division High School in 1899, then worked as a court reporter from 1905-1920.

She was fascinated by law and determined to become an attorney herself. She attended post-secondary school at the Chicago Seminar of Sciences from 1912-1915, and earned her LLB (a more advanced law degree than the typical JD) from Chicago Law School in 1920.

Violette Neatley Anderson became the first female Chicago City prosecutor in 1922, then established a successful legal practice in the Chicago area two years later. On January 29, 1926, she became the first African-American woman admitted to the US Supreme Court bar, but never argued a case before the Court. Continue reading

Reuben V. Anderson

Reuben V. Anderson

Reuben V. Anderson

Reuben V. Anderson was the 1st Black appointed to Mississippi Supreme Court.

African American civil rights lawyer, Anderson attended Tougaloo College and graduated from Ole Miss law school in 1967. Upon his graduation, he began working as the Mississippi associate counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. until 1975. From 1981 to 1985, he served as judge in Hinds County Circuit Court.

Next, he was appointed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, a position he held until 1991.

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