So for the last few posts, I focused on historic Legal Divas of Color…now it’s time to talk about TODAY’S Legal Divas, still breaking boundaries!
Kamala Harris is the current Attorney General for the State of California. She is the FIRST woman of color to hold this position. Born October 20, 1964, she has packed a great deal of accomplishments into her time on Earth thus far. Her mother is a doctor from India; her father is a Jamaican American economics professor at Stanford University. A California girl through and through, she was born and raised in Oakland, spending some time in Montreal, Canada. Ms. Harris completed her undergraduate studies at Howard University, and received her juris doctor from University of California, Hastings School of Law.
In her professional life, she served as the Deputy District Attorney for Alameda County, CA, then became the Managing Attorney for the Career Criminal Unit of the San Francisco DA’s Office. After a short management stint at the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, she was elected to be the District Attorney of San Francisco! Ms. Harris held that post for 7 years and two elections, until she was elected to the position of Attorney General in 2010. The Los Angeles Daily Journal ranked her as one of the top 100 attorneys in California.
One of the aspects that struck me about Ms. Harris is her anti-death penalty stance. As the head prosecutor, she has received pressure to seek the death penalty on the criminal cases of several different defendants charged with murder. She made it very clear that although she was against the death penalty in general, she would review each case individually. After review, she had opted to seek the penalty life without parole instead of death, mostly because she believes it is a more cost-effective and better punishment option. She did not bow to pressure, but chose to do what she believed was right.
In between all of this, she authored a book entitled “Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer“. Ms. Harris was at the forefront in implementing community programs to address crime and work with the community to reduce recidivism.
Kamala Harris, I thank you for being an ORIGINAL Legal Diva, and being a great role model for me!
Legal Divas of Color: Gwen S. Cherry
Born in Miami, Florida in 1923, Gwen Sawyer Cherry was a trailblazer like no other. She earned three degrees between 1946 and 1965, while mothering two children. Her bachelor’s degree and law degree were from Florida A&M University; she also earned a master’s degree in science from New York University and studied at three other out-of-state universities. She later returned to FAMU to be a law professor.
Upon her graduation from law school, Ms. Cherry became Miami-Dade County’s first African American female attorney.
After careers as a teacher and a lawyer, Ms. Cherry was elected to the Florida House in 1970. Ms. Cherry was the first African-American woman elected to the Florida Legislature. While in office, she introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, chaired the state’s committee for International Woman’s Year in 1978, and co-authored Portraits in Color: the Lives of Colorful Negro Women with Pauline Willis and Ruby Thomas. Additionally, Ms. Cherry chaired the Minority Affairs Committee for the Democratic National Convention and the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1972 while serving as legal counsel for the National Organization for Women (NOW)’s Miami chapter.
Tragically, Ms. Cherry died in a Tallahassee car accident in 1979. In his eulogy, then Florida Governor Graham called Gwen Cherry ‘a champion for the rights of all people and a voice of reason and concern.’
At FAMU, a lecture hall was dedicated to Ms. Cherry for all of her hard work and dedication. There is a park in Miami that bears her name, as a testament to her work to benefit the youth.
In 2005, what was previously known as the National Bar Association Women Lawyers Division Dade County chapter was renamed Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association in her honor.
I am proud to serve on the Board of Directors for this organization.
Gwen S. Cherry, I thank you for being one of the ORIGINAL Legal Divas!!
Jane Bolin was born in Poughkeepsie, NY on April 11, 1908. Her father was an attorney, and cared for young Jane after her mother died. A brilliant student, she graduated top of her class at Wellesley College, in spite of the challenges presented due to the racist views of her classmates and teachers. Imagine going to school, and everyone ignoring you, day after day; this is what Ms. Bolin had to overcome. She was discouraged from pursuing her goal of becoming an attorney, most notably by her college career counselor. Pushing on, Ms. Bolin became the first woman of color to receive a law degree from the very prestigious Yale Law School in 1931.
In her professional career, Ms. Bolin was the first African American to join the New York City Bar Association. She became the first African American assistant corporate counsel for New York City (New York Law Department). Her smarts and tenacity did not go unnoticed. Mayor Fiorello Laguardia called her to appear with him at the World’s Fair on July 22, 1939. The mayor gave her the biggest surprise of her career; he appointed her as a judge, making her the FIRST African American judge in the United States! She was 31 at the time of appointment.
Judge Bolin served in the Family court division until her mandatory retirement at age 70. She was reappointed three more times by three different mayors. She took on racist policies, and fought for the rights of children and parents of all races. Until her death in 2007, she served on a variety of boards, including the NAACP. She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt on a holistic program aimed at reducing crime in the male juvenile population.
Judge Jane Bolin, I thank you for being the ORIGINAL Legal Diva
Charlotte E. Ray was born in New York in January 1850. She was a daughter of a slavery abolitionist — highly intelligent with a will of steel. She decided to go to law school at a time that women and African Americans were not welcome. Knowing this, she got creative. She submitted her application as C.E. Ray, tricking the admissions committee into thinking she was a man. She succeeded, and attended Howard University School of law in Washington, D.C. Ms. Ray excelled in her coursework, with her specialty being corporate law. Her classmates were very impressed by her, noting that she was an apt student.
Ms. Ray graduated, and in 1872 became the FIRST woman to be admitted to the DC Bar…and the first woman of color to practice law in the US. Later, she became the FIRST woman to be granted permission to argue cases before the US Supreme Court.
She opened her own firm, advertising in famous activist Frederick Douglass’ newspaper to attract clients. Being aware of the biases of the day, she continued the use of the name C.E. Ray. Unfortunately, it was just too hard, and she had to close her firm. Never being one to sit idle, she became a teacher in Brooklyn, NY. Ms. Ray was part of the women’s suffrage movement, as well as being an early member of the NAACP.
She died in NY in January 1911. Her legacy of firsts should never be forgotten.
Charlotte E. Ray, I thank you for being the ORIGINAL Legal Diva
Hello my dear readers!
So as you know, February is Black History Month. I will be featuring African American female attorneys, as a tribute to those who have come before me, paving the way for me to be the Resident Legal Diva!
Before I start, just wanted to put it all in perspective with this great video.
Portuguese Anti Racism Ad
Have a wonderful day, stay tuned…more to come!