From overcoming oppression, to breaking rules, to reimagining the world or waging a rebellion, these women of history have a story to tell. During her time as a federal judge for the Southern District of New York, she made efforts to reach out to other African-American women in her position. Her interest in civil rights led her to join the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) after she was denied admission to a public beach and skating rink. May 17, 1954 marks a defining moment in the history of the United States. She also argued that a sit-in demonstration was a legal form of protest against “state enforced segregation”. The State Constance Baker Motley argued the case before the Supreme Court on November 6, 1962. [10] Despite opposition, she was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 30, 1966, and received her commission on August 30, 1966, becoming the first African American female federal judge. United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, "Using the Law for Social Change: Judge Constance Baker Motley", "An Extraordinary Woman: The Honorable Constance Baker Motley", "Charles Postel. [2] She argued 12 landmark civil rights cases in front of the Supreme Court, winning nine. This case involved female tenants in New York City arguing that their male landlord was violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. They broke color barriers to make history in politics, academics, aviation, entertainment and more. Learn more about Constance Baker Motley below. & Harrow, S. (2011). [27], An award-winning biographical documentary, Justice is a Black Woman: The Life and Work of Constance Baker Motley, was first broadcast on Connecticut Public Televisionin 2012. The law is treated in a number of articles. [5], After graduating from Columbia's Law School in 1946, Baker was hired by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) as a civil rights lawyer. From 1964 to 1965 Motley served a full term in New York state’s Senate, and in 1965 she became the first woman to serve as a city borough president. . [9], Constance Baker Motley ruled against the plaintiff in the case of Mullarkey v. Borglum in 1970. New Jersey: Pearson. Motley in early 2006, was honored by Senators Charles Schumer, and Hillary Clinton with the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously. They were married until her death of congestive heart failure on September 28, 2005, fourteen days after her 84th birthday, at NYU Downtown Hospital in New York City. While in high school, Motley became president of the New Haven Negro Youth Council and was secretary of the New Haven Adult Community Council. She graduated from New York University in 1943. Senator Eastland was in opposition to Baker's past desegregation work including Brown v. Board of Education and Meredith v. Fair. The LDF chose Martin Luther King Day to announce the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program, named for the Supreme Court justice and for Constance Baker Motley, who was an LDF attorney just a few years out of Columbia University Law School when she wrote the initial complaint that led to the court's Brown v.Board of Education ruling outlawing racial segregation … Constance Baker Motley, née Constance Baker, (born September 14, 1921, New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.—died September 28, 2005, New York, New York), American lawyer and jurist, an effective legal advocate in the civil rights movement and the first African American woman to become a federal judge. 1921", "Motley, Constance Baker - Federal Judicial Center", "Blank v. Sullivan & Cromwell - Case Brief for Law Students | Casebriefs", "Ludtke v. Kuhn, 461 F. Supp. “13th Annual Ford Freedom Awards Celebrates ‘Champions of Justice.’”. Equality: An American Dilemma, 1866–1896. Meet extraordinary women who dared to bring gender equality and … Upon hearing of the founding of the Equal Justice Society, Judge Motley stated, “Now I can relax.” In her fifty-plus years as a jurist, Motley had a major impact on ending racial discrimination. [18] She served as Chief Judge from 1982 to 1986. Motley also endorsed urban renewal projects and looked to improve the neighborhoods in New York City that needed aid. A brilliant lawyer and distinguished federal judge for over forty years, Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005) quietly helped change … Omissions? [20] In Ludtke v. Kuhn, Melissa Ludtke filed a lawsuit against Bowie Kuhn, the Major League Baseball Commissioner, The American League President Leland MacPhail, and three New York City officials over the New York Yankees gendered policy forbidding female sports reports from entering the Yankees locker room.[21]. Ring in the new year with a Britannica Membership, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Constance-Baker-Motley, National Visionary Leadership Project - Biography of Constance Baker Motley, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. [17] Senator James Eastland of Mississippi delayed Constance Baker Motley's confirmation process for seven months. Senator Kamala Harris of California", Constance Baker Motley, Civil Rights Trailblazer, Dies at 84, Legendary Civil Rights Lawyer Constance Baker Motley Dies at 84, Constance Baker Motley's oral history video excerpts, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Constance_Baker_Motley&oldid=1007641561, African-American state legislators in New York (state), American people of Saint Kitts and Nevis descent, Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, United States district court judges appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson, Women state legislators in New York (state), Articles with imported Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 text, Short description is different from Wikidata, Wikipedia articles with SNAC-ID identifiers, Wikipedia articles with WORLDCATID identifiers, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, Ahmed, Siraj. She obtained a role with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund before entering law school as a staff attorney and continued her work with the organization for more than twenty years. Motley was successful in nine of the ten cases she argued before the Supreme Court. of the Comm. J. Raymond Jones was influential in helping her reach these positions. University of Virginia School of Law community members recognize trailblazing African American legal heroes. James Meredith, pictured above with his Columbia degree, risked his life to desegregate Ole Miss in 1962, a 16-month court battle led by Constance Baker Motley (see above), and required the backing of the U.S. Justice Department, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and President John F. Kennedy. She also continued her involvement in community activities. But from the late 1940s through the early 1960s, Motley played a pivotal role in the fight to end racial segregation, putting her own safety at risk in one racial powder keg after another. 1978)", "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 3", "Constance Motley Dies; Rights Lawyer, Judge", "Constance Baker Motley: Judiciary's Unsung Rights Hero", "We Stood on Their Shoulders: Are they strong enough for us now? Even before completing law school, she joined the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP, where she worked with Thurgood Marshall. [5], In October 1945, during Baker's second year at Columbia Law School, future United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall hired her as a law clerk. Constance Baker Motley made history in the legal realm as the first African American woman to be named as a Federal Court judge in 1966. Hines, C.D., Hines, C.W. [S]he is a woman, with great humanitarian instinct, but I have never seen it to disturb her judgment objectively and on questions of law. Although opposed by southern conservatives in the Senate, she was eventually confirmed and later became chief judge (1982) and senior judge (1986), serving in the latter post until her death. [25] One of the women she reached out to was Judge Ann Thompson who received a personal note from Motley on the day she was appointed to be a judge for the District of New Jersey. [6] Baker Motley describes her parents' education of being equivalent "to the tenth grade in the States. [11], In 1950, she wrote the original complaint in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. [14] She was the first African American woman to sit in the State Senate. After leaving the NAACP, Motley continued her trailblazing path, becoming the first Black woman to serve in the New York state Senate and later the first Black woman federal judge. [10], In Belknap v. Leary, 427 F.2d 496 (2d Cir. Her autobiography, Equal Justice Under Law, was published in 1998. [26], Vice President Kamala Harris explicitly cites Constance Baker Motley's influence on her own political and law career on her campaign page. Both of her parents were immigrants of the Nevis. [16], Motley was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson on January 26, 1966, to a seat on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York vacated by Judge Archie Owen Dawson. "[7] Her mother was a domestic worker, and her father worked as a chef for different Yale University student societies, including the secret society Skull and Bones. She left one son, Joel Wilson Motley III, co-chairman of Human Rights Watch, and three grandchildren, Hannah Motley, Ian Motley, and Senai Motley. Although the Supreme Courts decision in Brown was ultimately unanimous, it occurred only after a hard-fought, multi-year campaign to persuade all nine justices to overturn the separate but equal doctrine that their predecessors had endorsed i… DuBois, in her Sunday School. Though she had already formed a desire to practice law, Motley lacked the means to attend college, and instead went to work for the National Youth Administration. [22] In 1993, she was inducted into National Women's Hall of Fame. ... Federal Judge Constance Baker Motley … She assumed senior status on September 30, 1986. In 2011, She was honored posthumously with the Ford Freedom Award for her work to improve the African American community. Constance Baker Motley, Equal justice under law: an autobiography, New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998. [25], With her work on Ludtke v. Kuhn, Constance Baker Motley became a pivotal figure to Melissa Ludtke. In 1939, she graduated with honors from Hillhouse High School. Unable to afford a college education despite her academic talent, she so impressed wealthy white contractor and philanthropist Clarence Blakeslee that he paid for her education. The African American Odyssey. [4], Constance Baker was born on September 14, 1921, in New Haven, Connecticut, the ninth of twelve children. Her service terminated on September 28, 2005, due to her death in New York City. “The Marshall-Motley Scholars Program will not only honor the transformative civil rights legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall and Judge Constance Baker Motley, but … She was a law clerk to Thurgood Marshall, aiding him in the case Brown v. Board of Education. Constance B. Motley, photographed on becoming the first female New York State Senator. Constance Baker Motley’s efforts in combating racial discrimination lent itself to memorialization in variety of different forms. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. You may not know her name, but you have been affected by the legal battles she won and the precedents she set that helped shape civil rights, women’s rights and human rights. In 1964, Motley was elected to the New York State Senate and devoted much of her time to advocated for housing equality for majority-Black and Latinx, low-income tenants. Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) honored Motley’s life and work with “Justice is a Black Woman: The Life and Work of Constance Baker Motley,” a special that aired in 2012. Judge Motley (September 14, 1921-September 28, 2005) was an African American civil rights activist, lawyer, judge, and state senator. For a description of legal…. The first African-American woman ever to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, in Meredith v. Fair she won James Meredith's effort to be the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi in 1962. Martin Luther King Jr. while he sat in jail, as well as spending a night with civil rights activist Medgar Evers under armed guard. In response, Motley pointed to her history of impartial decisions, sometimes ruling against the plaintiff in discrimination cases. Constance Baker Motley graduated from her Connecticut high school with honors, but her parents, immigrants from the Caribbean, couldn’t afford to pay for college. She fought to have the charges dropped due to a complete lack of evidence against the reverends. Through this work that she encountered local businessman and philanthropist Clarence W. Blakeslee, who, after hearing Motley speak at a New Haven community center, offered to pay for her education. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal. Law, the discipline and profession concerned with the customs, practices, and rules of conduct of a community that are recognized as binding by the community. The new scholarship program is in part named after the late Constance Baker Motley, seen here in 2004, who was the first Black woman federal judge. Constance Baker Motley (September 14, 1921 – September 28, 2005), was a key strategists of the African-American civil rights movement, lawyer, judge, state senator, and Borough President of Manhattan, New York City. [17], Motley was the presiding judge on the case of Blank v. Sullivan & Cromwell, a landmark case for women lawyers. Her parents were emigrants from the island of Nevis in the West Indies.Motley grew up attending New Haven’s integrated public schools and soon became an avid reader. The new scholarship program is in part named after the late Constance Baker Motley, seen here in 2004, who was the first Black woman federal judge. [10] Baker visited churches that were fire bombed, sang freedom songs, and visited Rev. She attended public schools, and on many occasions, she was a subject of racism dur… She was otherwise a key legal strategist in the civil rights movement, helping to desegregate Southern schools, buses, and lunch counters. Senator Eastland used his influence as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee to disrupt Baker's nomination and went as far as accusing her of being a member of the Communist Party. While every effort has been made to follow citation style rules, there may be some discrepancies. Constance Baker’s father was a chef for Skull and Bones, an exclusive social club at Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut. Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. A documentary short, The Trials of Constance Baker Motley, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 19, 2015.[28]. [23] Her funeral was held at the Connecticut church where she had been married; a public memorial service was held at Riverside Church in Manhattan. Her mother worked as a domestic worker and fathers a chef for Yale University. At NYU, she obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1943. 400. [24] During the early twenty-first century, Motley became a part of the Just The Beginning Foundation, a foundation dedicated to preserving African American judges who improve the African American community through their work. [15] In November 1965, she was elected to succeed herself for a full four-year term. Her parents, Rachel Huggins and McCullough Alva Baker,[5] were immigrants from the Caribbean Island Nevis. As the fund's first female attorney, she became Associate Counsel to the LDF, making her a lead trial attorney in a number of early and significant civil rights cases including representing Martin Luther King Jr., the Freedom Riders, and the Birmingham Children Marchers. Judge Constance Baker Motley in her chambers, circa 1990. She argued 12 landmark civil rights cases in front of the Supreme C… ", "My Story | U.S. Motley received her Bachelor of Laws in 1946 from Columbia Law School. 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