Friday, 12 February 2016


                                   BLACK                   SOCIAL                       HISTORY
                                          BLACK       SOCIAL       HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Raymond Pace Alexander
Raymond Pace Alexander
The Negro Lawyer and His Responsibility in the Urban Crisis, Part One
Raymond Pace Alexander
Reprinted from The Boulé Journal, Volume 32/Number 4 Summer 1969
Raymond Pace Alexander, Judge of the Common Pleas Court of Philadelphia, delivered this talk in Washington at the forty-third annual convention of the National Bar Association.
It was forty years ago when I, then only a few years out of law school, accepted an invitation from a distinguished Negro lawyer in Des Moines, Iowa, George H. Woodson, and an equally distinguished and brilliant lawyer of Chicago, a much younger and charming gentleman, C. Francis Stanford, to address the proceedings of the association at its third annual convention in 1928.
I had never known either of those fine gentlemen before that convention. George Woodson, then in his middle fifties, was the founder of the National Bar Association, organized in Des Moines in 1925. C. Francis Stradford, then in his middle thirties, was its president in 1928. Each of these revered gentlemen barristers has answered the final call of the Almighty and is no longer with us, not, however, without leaving his monumental contribution to the glorious history of this great association.
For a long number of years, the National Bar Association truly was the lone voice "crying in the wilderness," as it were, among all the organized law associations in America with one exception, crying for justice and equality for the American Negro. The lone exception to which I pay loyal and respectful tribute was the National Lawyers Guild.
Do you remember those years? Forty years is a long time ago, and it might be well to recall some of the events of those years briefly, and what the Negro lawyer faced in his convention city (Detroit), what he talked about, his then problems before the American courts and, indeed, before America itself. They were bleak and dismal years. His future, the future of the American Negro, was uncertain.
The full history of those near three decades (1928 to 1954) is an intensely absorbing and, in many aspects, a heartbreaking story which is well worth telling because it is an important part of the history of the American Negro and the American Negro lawyer and his contribution to the on-going and difficult struggle for better race relations in America. Time, obviously, prevents a detailed discussion of this subject, interesting as it is, at this time.
What were our problems at that time - in 1928? What were the subjects on the agenda - for the Negro lawyers assembled in Detroit? At the outset you must be reminded that we had no Detroit-Hilton or any other first-class hotel, white or colored, in which we could meet. The white hotels just would not have us, and we had no recourse to any court of law. We met, as did all Negro organizations at that time, in the YMCA's and the Negro one's at that.
The total number of Negro lawyers in America in 1928 barely reached 500, half of that number were concentrated in three cities. Washington, D. C., had about seventy-five, but fifty were working in government offices. There were approximately 100 in New York and about seventy-five in Chicago. As an illustration of their few numbers, there were only fifteen lawyers in Philadelphia (as contrasted to today's 120), less than ten in Pittsburgh, the remainder scattered principally in the large industrial cities of the North, such as Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis and St. Louis, and the Far West.
There were perhaps less than fifty in the entire South, where they were most definitely needed, where a mass of 12 million Negro Americans lived and labored in the farming, cotton-growing states of the South and who were crying for help, but for whom the law gave no protection and for whom their white overlords, cotton plantation owners, farm labor bosses, sheriffs, KKK night riders and other race baiters and terrorizers gave only the whip and the lash, the torch and the rope, should they make any organized effort to assert even the barest minimum of their constitutional rights; for example, to register to vote, to serve on jury, freedom from beatings to obtain forced confessions or to demand the abolition of segregated rail and bus transportation. In fact, any organized and entirely peaceful protest against intolerable working conditions would cause the most cruel and inhuman beatings and shootings of those who protested and even the burning down of the meeting halls as reprisals against such workers.
To recite to you all the crimes and abuses committed against innocent black people of the rural South in those cruel days from 1925 to 1950, when we took up the defense of these people, for whom there was little or no protection at law, would cause your blood to chill in your body. We have no intention or desire to do that. You can see, therefore, that there was a crying need at that time for bright dedicated and courageous Negro lawyers. There is such a need today. There was an equally crying need for a national organization of Negro lawyers in those days. There is still a great need for the National Bar Association today, and let no one try to urge upon you that "You have done a good job - your mission has been accomplished - and now since the American Bar Association has dropped its racial bar, the National Bar Association is no longer necessary."
I should like to tell you my own personal experience in trying to become a member of the ABA from 1925 to 1945 and their refusal to admit me because of race," but that is not a pleasant story and I prefer to let it rest to be told in detail in my "memoirs." The National Bar Association of Negro Lawyers of America in needed more today than ever before in its history-and in a few moments I hope to tell you why.
Let me remind those of you present tonight, especially those who were too young to know the events of those years that our annual conventions were cases of the character just alluded to come to our attention by our members, we would discuss the legal points involved and assist the lawyers who were handling these cases from the hearings in the police court, through the trial and state appellate courts and thence on appeal before our United States Supreme Court. It was the Negro lawyer who gave hope to the defenseless poor masses of black people of the South and sustained him in the belief that America offered a future for him and his family free from torture and despair.
And, to the everlasting glory of the Negro lawyer of America, it was he who was victorious in the overwhelming number of civil rights and human rights cases argued before the Supreme Court of the United States, that great tribunal, during the last forty years including the greatest in the field of education in all its history, the Brown vs. Board of Education case in 1954 and, just a few months ago, the next in importance in the field of education, the famous Girard College case from my own City of Philadelphia, won by another famous Negro lawyer, William T. Coleman, Jr., of Philadelphia. (I had the honor to bring the first case that tested this famous will in 1954, which resulted in a favorable decision of our highest court in 1957.) To those of you who are interested in further research on this subject, I prepared an article at quite some length for the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History entitled "The Upgrading of the Negro's Status by Supreme Court Decisions," which is published in bound Volume BXX, No. 2. A later and more complete study in book form appeared in 1966 entitled The Petitioners (the story of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Negro) written by our treasured friend and member, a great lawyer and later a distinguished judge of the Municipal Court of Los Angeles, Loren Miller, who died quite unexpectedly just a year ago, in July, 1967.
I commend these works to you should you want to know more about the Negro who was in every respect a ward of the United States Supreme Court for more than 100 years. As Loren Miller aptly puts it, " befits a dependent (a ward), the Negro has had to solicit the intercession of his guardian when he has sought to exercise rights and privileges enjoyed by grown up white citizens as a matter of course ... that Negroes have had to secure Supreme Court decrees in order to do what white Americans can do without question, such as buy or rent homes, vote in primary elections, ride in Pullman cars... read daily newspapers in city libraries, loll around in public parks, eat in bus stations or swim in the ocean."
Most of these cases argued and won by Negro lawyers, many by Loren Miller himself, who was eminently successful, especially in the field of restrictive covenants barring Negroes from open housing in nonsegregated areas.
The names of these Negro lawyer-heroes, such as I like to describe those brilliant barristers who have been so successful before the highest court of our land, are many and long, all well known to you and the list of heroes is increasing annually. It would perhaps be improper to mention a few without naming all but I must pay deep and solemn respect to two successful advocates in a number of unusual cases.
One was the architect and planner of scores of landmark decisions favorable to the Negro, a profound scholar in the field of law, with whom I was associated as an underclassman while he was a senior at our beloved Harvard Law School, many long years ago. I refer to the late, distinguished "Father of Civil Rights" and brilliant scholar, Charles H. Houston.
I also pay deep and profound tribute to Dean Houston's protege who became one of the most successful advocates at the Bar of the Supreme Court, now Mr. Justice Thurgood Marshall, a distinguished member of our great Supreme Court, a student of Charles Houston while he was dean of the Law School at Howard.
I also pay tribute to the law faculty of one of America's great law schools, the Law School of Howard University. It was the faculty of this law school that served as a training center that inspired the Negro students and sharpened the minds of the bright young men of our race, causing many of their graduates to follow the leadership of Houston and Marshall to countless victories in the state and federal courts throughout this nation to the well-earned glory to their race and to themselves. I cannot leave this part of my subject without adding that a score or more of Howard University college and law school graduates now grace the Benches in at least twenty-five state and federal courts in our land - a great step forward from the year 1928 - forty years ago when we could count at that time and for twelve years thereafter (1940) only one Negro judge in all America, the late"and esteemed Judge James A. Cobb of the Municipal Court of the District of Columbia, the city where I have the honor to speak tonight.