One of the wonderful things about Maryland’s location is that it is close to the nation’s capital, close to where so much history has occurred. Picture a historic event that happened in DC. You probably imagined an event that occurred on or near the National Mall; maybe you imagined the March on Washington, Barack Obama’s first inauguration, or the 2017 Women’s March.
But, in pockets of DC that are miles away from the Mall, history has also occurred–albeit with less fanfare. For instance, at Howard University, young folks have made history. They have made history in the legal world. In fact, Howard’s students have played a pivotal role in the history of the legal world.
Howard’s law school counts Thurgood Marshall as a graduate. While he wanted to attend the University of Maryland’s law school, the school didn’t accept him because he was black. He attended Howard instead. He, of course, went on to become the first black US Supreme Court justice.
Howard University’s law school also counts Charlotte Ray (born 1850) as a graduate. Upon graduating from Howard in 1872, she became the first black woman in the US to receive a law degree. She passed the bar and began practicing law that same year. She opened her own law firm. But, after practicing for only a few years, her firm failed because of prejudice against blacks and against women.
Still, she was a pioneer. And it’s hard to overstate the amount of guts and grit she must have had to break new ground–less than a decade after the end of American slavery–in a legal world dominated by white male judges, lawyers, and jurors.
She, at least partially, cleared a path for so many future black lawyers to comfortably walk down.
Black History Month is a fitting time for black lawyers, like me, to recognize the contribution of trailblazing black women like her.
After all, we are her offspring.