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Maddox in the U.S. Supreme Court, part I

Alton H.Maddox | , Jr. | 4/12/2011, 4:40 p.m.

This past Monday, I took the first step to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to preserve the legacies of Black attorneys like Robert Morris Sr., George Vashon, John Rock, Noah W. Parden, Styles L. Hutchins, Lutia A. Lytle, Wilford H. Smith, Charlotte Ray, Scipio Africanus Jones, professor James M. Nabrit Jr., Fitzhugh L. Styles, William H. Hastie, Henry Lewis Sr. and Charles Hamilton Houston. These were some of the early giants in the law.

Everett J. Waring became the first Black lawyer to be admitted to the bar in Maryland in 1885 and also the first Black lawyer to argue a case in 1890 in the United States Supreme Court. Black ministers financed this criminal case involving Blacks and international law. On the same day that President Abraham Lincoln and Congress signed the proposal for the 13th Amendment, Dr. John Swett Rock was admitted to practice law before the U.S. Supreme Court. This was Feb. 1, 1865, and it was a first for Blacks. Chief Justice Roger Taney had died in 1864.

Without the help of local Black ministers to overturn a decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals in 1877 barring Blacks from practicing law in Maryland, there may still be no Black lawyers in Maryland, despite the 14th Amendment.

Black ministers formed the Brotherhood of Liberty, which recruited Waring out of Howard University Law School. The Supreme Bench of Maryland ruled in 1885 that Maryland would finally honor the 14th Amendment. Their efforts paved the way for Thurgood Marshall.

Wilford H. Smith and Cornelius Jones made history on Dec.13,1895,when two Black lawyers would separately argue Gibson v. Mississippi and Smith v. Mississippi before the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice John Marshall Harlan would write the opinion in each case that Jim Crow was permissible in excluding Blacks from jury service. A year later, Harlan would dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson.

While bearing the tag of being an "Uncle Tom," Booker T. Washington was secretly financing civil rights litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court. Smith benefited from Washington's largesse, and with Washington's earlier nod, Smith would serve as admiralty lawyer for Marcus Garvey's Black Star Line.

Washington initially embarked on a career in law in West Virginia but later chose to become an educator at Hampton Institute and a founder of Tuskegee Institute. He also formed the National Negro Business League. This gave Black lawyers the first opportunity to meet as a group on a national basis.

Washington would also solicit Frederick McGee to lobby the Catholic diocese of Maryland to oppose Maryland's pending disenfranchisement legislation. McGee would later design the National Afro-American Council and the Niagara Movement. These organizations were forerunners to the NAACP, which whites would form in 1909 to control Black civil rights lawsuits.

The NAACP would recruit Dr. W.E.B. DuBois as the only Black on its staff. He had opposed Black lawyers arguing cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. Moreover, DuBois had helped tear up the Niagara Movement, which would have been a threat to the formation of the