This week, Mills College, in Oakland, California, became the first all-women’s college in the country to explicitly allow transgender and gender non-conforming students to enroll.
On this day in history September 14, 1921: Constance Baker Motley was born in New Haven Connecticut. She was the ninth of twelve children born to parents Rachel Huggins and Willoughby Alva Baker who had emigrated from the island of Nevis in the West Indies. Judge Motley would receive her law degree from Columbia University School of Law in 1946. This would put her on the path that she would be most known for.
She would meet future United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall while at Columbia Law School. The article Constance Baker Motley from the Columbia 250 website elaborates on this meeting of future African-American jurists:
While still a law student at Columbia, Motley met Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s legal director, who offered her a job as a law clerk in the organization’s New York office. After receiving her law degree in 1946, Motley became a full-fledged member of the NAACP’s legal staff.
According to the article Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005) from the National Women’s History Project webpage:
In 1948, she began a 16-year as a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, serving as a key attorney in many of the major legal challenges of the civil rights era, including dozens of school desegregation challenges. She was the only woman on the legal team in the historic legal challenge to school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. She was lead counsel for James Meredith in his successful battle to gain admission to University of Mississippi. She argued ten cases to the United States Supreme Court, winning nine of them.
Her obituary Constance Baker Motley, Civil Rights Trailblazer, Dies at 84 by Douglas Martin from the New York Times dated September 29, 2005
Judge Motley won cases that ended segregation in Memphis restaurants and at whites-only lunch counters in Birmingham, Ala. She fought for King’s right to march in Albany, Ga. She played an important role in representing blacks seeking admission to the Universities of Florida, Georgia Alabama and Mississippi and Clemson College in South Carolina.
In 1964, she ran for New York State Senate and became the first African-American woman to be a State Senator of the state of New York. In 1965, she also became the first African American woman to be a New York City Borough President.The Douglas obituary of Judge Mobley describes this further:
In February 1964, Mrs. Motley’s high-level civil rights profile drew her into politics. A Democratic State Senate candidate from the Upper West Side was ruled off the ballot because of an election-law technicality. She accepted the nomination on the condition that it would not interfere with her N.A.A.C.P. work and handily defeated a Republican to become the first black woman elected to the State Senate. She was re-elected that November.
She remained in the job until February 1965, when she was chosen by unanimous vote of the City Council to fill a one-year vacancy as Manhattan borough president. In citywide elections nine months later, she was re-elected to a full four-year term with the endorsement of the Democratic, Republican and Liberal Parties.
As borough president, she drew up a seven-point program for the revitalization of Harlem and East Harlem, securing $700,000 to plan for those and other underprivileged areas of the city.
A more in-depth description of Motley’s accomplishment in New York City law and political career comes from the post Constance Baker Motley Papers, 1948-1988 from the Five Colleges Archives & Manuscript Collections webpage:
In the late 1950s Motley had begun to be active in New York State politics. She served as a member of the New York State Advisory Council on Employment and Unemployment Insurance from 1958 to 1964, and in February 1964, she left the NAACP, having won a special election to the New York State Senate, becoming the first African American woman to serve in that body. As State Senator for the 21st Congressional District in Manhattan (roughly from 96th street on the upper west side to 161st street in Harlem), Motley launched a campaign during her first seven weeks in office to extend civil rights legislation in employment, education, and housing. She was re-elected to the Senate in November 1964 and served until February 1965, when New York City Council elected her the first woman to serve as President of the Borough of Manhattan. She was re-elected in the city-wide elections of November 1965 for a full four-year term and was the first candidate for the Manhattan Presidency to win the endorsement of the Republican, Democratic, and Liberal Parties. As Borough President, Motley drew up a seven-point program for the revitalization of Harlem and East Harlem, and won a pioneering fight for $700,000 to plan renewal projects for those and other underprivileged areas of the city. The plan included a design to decrease racial segregation in the public schools serving the housing projects.
Her biggest promotion came in 1966 when President Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed to a judgeship for the Southern District of New York. The Southern District of New York is the largest federal district in the nation. In doing so, she became the first African-American woman to be appointed to a Federal Judgeship. The the post Constance Baker Motley Papers, 1948-1988 from the Five Colleges Archives & Manuscript Collections webpage describes this further:
Over tremendous opposition from southern senators (led by Senator James Eastland of Mississippi) and other federal judges, Motley was confirmed in August 1966, becoming the first woman to occupy that post, and the first African American woman ever named to the federal bench. Judge Motley continued to be a strong supporter of civil rights for minorities and the poor, as well as for women’s rights. Among her many controversial decisions was the infamous “locker room case,” Ludtke v. Kuhn (1978), in which she ruled that a woman reporter be admitted to the New York Yankees’ locker room. In another highly publicized case Judge Motley admonished the New York City police for not providing Vietnam war protesters with adequate protection against violence in the streets (Belknap et al v. Leary, 1970).
Judge Motley would be appointed Chief Judge of the Southern District of New York in 1982 and held senior status since 1986. In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens’ Medal in recognition of her achievements and service to the nation. In 2003, the NAACP selected her to receive its highest honor, the Springarn Medal.
Judge Motley would pass away of heart disease at the age of 84 in 2005.
For Further Reading:
- Transcript of an interview with Judge Motley from November 2, 1985 for a program called Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965) Courtesy of Washington University
- Constance Baker Motley Papers, 1948-1988 from the Sophia Smith Collection of the Five College Archives & Manuscript Collection This website hold the collections from the following institutions: Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and the University of Massachusetts: Amherst
- THE HONORABLE CONSTANCE BAKER MOTLEY from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law
- Constance Baker Motley from the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame
One of those people I probably should’ve learned about but didn’t.
I needed this today *le sigh*
Missing Chapter From America’s History Books
One In Four Of America’s Cowboys Were African-American
Many of the slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries were familiar with cattle herding from their homelands of West Africa. This brings historians the question of the name “Cowboy” and whether or not it was made from slave cow herders.
- On some Texas trails, about a quarter of cowboys were black.
African American cowboys were largely African American freedmen after the Civil War who were drawn to cowboy life, in part because there was not quite as much discrimination in the west as in other areas of American society at the time. For enslaved Blacks the West offered freedom and refuge from the bonds of slavery. It also gave African Americans a chance at better earnings. . After the Civil War many were employed as horsebreakers and for other tasks, but few of them became ranch foremen or managers. Some black cowboys took up careers as rodeo performers or were hired as federal peace officers in Indian Territory. Others ultimately owned their own farms and ranches.
- Hundreds of black cowboys were among the very first hands who drove huge herds along trails to Abilene, Kansas, the cattle-selling center of the Old West. They were especially skilled in vetting horses. When herding cattle, many black riders rode “on point,” ahead of the dust. Black cowboys were forced to do the hardest work with cattle, such as bronco busting, they had special skills with breaking in steeds.
Photo: No original source found, possible circa 1913 http://www.geni.com/projects/Black-Cowboys/1986
You are here. Cherish yourself.