Honoring Historic Black Legal Professionals

Honoring Historic Black Legal Professionals

  • Feb 21, 2023, 08:53 AM

Black History Month

This Black History Month, Tressler is proud to highlight some historic Black legal professionals. The following individuals helped shape the landscape of our country and the field of law.

Macon Bolling Allen (1816 – 1894)

Macon Bolling Allen was not only the first African American licensed to practice law in the U.S., but he was also the first to hold a judicial post. Macon was a skilled and dedicated lawyer as well as a political activist. After moving to Charleston, South Carolina in 1868, he became involved in politics amidst the racial tension in the Reconstruction Era South. Allen ran for secretary of the state in 1872, though he was not elected to the position. His campaign and the strong stance he took on important topics increased the visibility of African Americans in politics and drew greater attention to issues that pertained to them. Allen made history as the first African American to pass a major bar exam and to be licensed to practice law. He was also the first African American to ever hold a judiciary position. Macon Bolling Allen broke through barriers to create change and inspired other African Americans to pursue dreams of their own.

Charles Houston
Charles Hamilton Houston (1895 – 1950)

Charles Hamilton Houston was an African American lawyer and educator. He was a prominent figure in the dismantling of school and housing segregation. While at Harvard Law School, Houston became the first Black student elected to the editorial board of the Harvard Law Review. Between 1929 and 1935, he served as the Vice Dean and Dean of the Howard University School of Law. Challenging many of the Jim Crow laws, in 1935–40, Houston served as special counsel for the NAACP, arguing several important civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Houston’s efforts to dismantle the legal theory of “separate but equal” came to fruition after his death, with the historic Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision, which prohibited segregation in public schools. Houston is also well known for having mentored a generation of black lawyers, judges and legal professionals, including a young Thurgood Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall (1908 – 1993)

Thurgood Marshall was the 96th justice of the United States Supreme Court and the Court’s first African American justice. He served the on the Court for 24 years. Marshall studied law at Howard University, a historically Black college. As counsel to the NAACP, he utilized the judiciary to advocate equality for African Americans. In 1954, he won the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the Supreme Court ended racial segregation in public schools. People from all walks of life have benefitted from Thurgood Marshall’s efforts to increase access to the American dream of equality and fairness.

Patricia Roberts Harris (1924 – 1985)

Patricia Roberts Harris was an attorney, ambassador and presidential cabinet member. Harris became a summa cum laude graduate of Howard University in 1945 and moved back to Illinois to attend the University of Chicago for graduate school. Motivated by the civil rights actions taking place in Washington, she transferred to American University where she would ultimately earn her master’s degree. She was not done with her education quite yet. Harris went on to graduate with honors from Washington University’s Law School in 1960 and was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court and the District of Columbia bar. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Patricia Roberts Harris as the United States Ambassador to Luxembourg — making her the first Black woman to hold the position of ambassador. Harris became the first African American woman to become a dean of a law school in the United States at Howard University in 1969. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the post of secretary of housing and urban development. Harris was the first African American woman to hold a presidential cabinet position, and she went on to become secretary of health and human services in 1979.

Black History Month Project Leader:

Tambra Bullock
Tambra Bullock is a member of Tressler's national Diversity Equity & Inclusion Committee. She is the Marketing Coordinator on Tressler’s Marketing Team in our Chicago office. In addition to content creation and data analysis for Tressler, Tambra does freelance work as an actress, dancer, and visual director in the Chicagoland area. In her spare time, Tambra enjoys nature, fitness, coaching high school speech and drama. Tambra Bullock can be reached at tbullock@tresslerllp.com.