In the United States, fewer than 5% of all lawyers are Black, according to a recent study conducted by Law360. An even smaller percentage of this group are Black women lawyers — a startling statistic given the historical legacy left by many women legal trailblazers of color. This year, in observance of Black History Month, we’re recognizing and celebrating the legacy left by some of the most influential Black women in law.
Check out the list below to learn more about some of the most famous Black women in the field of law.
Six Black Women Who Made Legal History
- Charlotte Ray – Born in 1850, Charlotte Ray became the first African American female lawyer to practice law in the U.S. after having graduated from Howard University. She was later admitted to the Washington D.C. bar in 1887. Ray was also known for her activism in the women’s suffrage movement as part of the National Woman Suffrage Association as well as the National Association of Colored Women.
- Blanche E. Braxton – The first African American female admitted to the Massachusetts State Bar in 1923, Blanche E. Braxton also became the first Black woman admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts.
- Dorothy Crockett – After graduating from New England Law | Boston in 1931 with a bachelor of laws degree, Dorothy Crockett became the first African American female to pass the state bar and practice law in Rhode Island in 1932.
- Jane Bolin – Known perhaps most famously for being the first Black female to earn a law degree from Yale Law School in 1931, Jane Bolin was truly a legal trailblazer. After becoming the first African American woman to work in New York City’s legal department, Bolin also became the first Black woman judge in the United States, serving on the New York bench for 40 years.
- Kamala Harris – Elected as the 49th Vice President of the United States in 2021, Kamala Harris became the first African American person and the first woman in history to hold this office. Before becoming President of the United States Joseph Biden’s V.P., Harris served in the U.S. Senate. There, in 2017, she became the first Indian American and just the second Black woman elected to the Senate. Kamala Harris started her legal career at Hastings College, where she graduated with a law degree in 1989 and later became the attorney general of California.
- Michelle Obama – Former First Lady Michelle Obama—voted one of the most influential and most admired women in history by numerous organizations—first began her legal career after receiving her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1988. Michelle Obama served in both public and private office in Chicago, Illinois, her hometown, before becoming First Lady in 2008. She worked as the assistant commissioner for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, founded the Chicago branch of Public Allies, and served in many high-level positions at the University of Chicago, including V.P. of community and external affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Legacy of Past and Present Black Women Lawyers
While these trailblazers and many other Black women have made tremendous professional achievements paving the way for future generations, there is still a stark lack of representation in the field of law when it comes to people of color. But with the help of non-profit organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, diversity in the legal field, including judicial and executive appointments are improving with each passing year.
About Waters Kraus & Paul
Waters Kraus & Paul is a national plaintiffs’ law firm committed to fighting corporate giants on behalf of individuals like you for over 20 years. We represent families fighting for their lives against those responsible for injury and wrongful death caused by misconduct and fraud. We focus on personal injury and wrongful death cases involving asbestos and mesothelioma, benzene exposure, dangerous pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and birth defects caused by pesticides, toxic chemicals, opioid use, and semiconductor chip manufacturing. We also represent plaintiffs in qui tam whistleblower matters in cases that uncover false claims submitted to the government.