Today in Black History: Constance Baker Motley becomes the first African-American woman to be appointed to a federal judgeship (1966)
Constance Baker Motley pursued Civil Rights throughout her life as a lawyer, judge, and policymaker. She was raised in Connecticut by Caribbean immigrants (the ninth of twelve children), graduated from Columbia University Law School, and went on to become the first female attorney for the NAACP’S Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Through the LDF, she was the first female lawyer to argue a case before the Supreme Court (Meredith vs. Fair), winning James Meredith the right to attend University of Mississippi in 1962 and greatly accelerating the move toward integration. Two years later, she ran for and won a spot in the New York State Senate, and in 1965 was selected as Manhattan Borough President, both first’s for an African-American woman. A year later, President Johnson named her a district judge for the US District Court Southern District of New York, again a first for African-American women.
She is in the Connecticut and National Women’s Hall of Fame, was awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal by President Clinton, and received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, the organization’s highest medal. Motley used judicial and legislative means to accomplish extraordinary goals in the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. Her career path and awards are enviable by any standards, but her successes mean even more considering all the obstacles she faced as a woman of color. She shows that change CAN happen within the system, and is a wonderful role model for us all!
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