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
NAACP. DuBois had been engaged in a bitter feud with William Monroe Trotter, who was also a major leader of the Niagara Movement.
Today, virtually all Black leaders share the view that the Black struggle in the courtroom should be led by white lawyers. Charles Hamilton Houston had a different view, however. Even though he was the greatest lawyer–Black, white or polka dot–in American jurisprudence, he is not recognized today. There is no literature about him except a doctoral thesis written by G.R. McNeil.
My demise as a lawyer started with an unprecedented, disciplinary complaint filed by the New York Legislature against me that had honored Barry Slotnick for representing Bernard Goetz I had no white lawyer to vouch for my good character.This is a necessity. Constructive apprenticeships and preceptorships are still relevant to Black lawyers.
Be that as it may, I have taken the first step to invoke the U.S. Supreme Court to correct a longstanding grievance that is now spawning the prison-industrial complex and burdening Black attorneys. Blacks are not entitled to legal and political representation. The American Revolution gave whites legal and political representation. The Civil Rights Movement gave Blacks legal and political presence.
Without understanding the difference between federalism and states’ rights, a person is unable to understand the United States. When the Maryland Court of Appeals decided in 1877 that Blacks had no right to be attorneys in Maryland, it was relying on the Supreme Court decision in Bradwell v. Illinois. The high court had decided in 1872 that white women had no future in the law. In terms of legal representation, New York resembles Alabama in the 1920s and Georgia in the 1930s. In Alabama, Black lawyers were whipped, ran out of town or disbarred. When the International Defense League retained Benjamin J. Davis Jr. and John H. Geer to competently and zealously represent Angelo Herndon, an imprisoned communist, Georgia officials were furious. In open court, the prosecutors would refer to the Black attorneys as “niggers” and “darkeys.” It would take more than a decade before Georgia would allow another Black
lawyer to be admitted to the bar. One militant lawyer can spoil the barrel.
Since I was constructively disbarred in New York, Blacks have not been able to score any unconditional victories in the courtrooms. See Lemrick Nelson’s federal prosecution. His lawyer in the state prosecution was threatened with disbarment if he continued to represent Nelson in federal court.
The estate of Gavin Cato was unable to retain a lawyer to sue the perpetrators who ran over young Gavin. After the assassinations of Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, it is now legal for the NYPD to shoot an unarmed person at least 41 times with impunity. Without Black lawyers, New York has become a police state.
The latest affront was the kidnapping of a Somali boy and prosecution of him as an adult in a federal court in Manhattan. There is no federal jurisdiction. The boy’s mother says he is only 16 years of age. Because she is an African, her word is irrelevant and not credible.
When the young boy was arraigned in federal court, every Black lawyer in New York should have been in the courtroom. No Black lawyer showed up. History is repeating itself. Few Black lawyers showed up for the “Central Park Six” and those lawyers who did were disciplined later. As Dr. Martin L. King Jr. said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Arthur Lewis, Nelson’s lawyer in the state case, told me of his encounter with the Brooklyn Grievance Committee. It read him the Maddox warnings. It is ironic that the lawyer who took on more free cases than any other lawyer in America’s jurisprudence is now being used as a symbol to scare Black lawyers.
April 25: Gov. David Paterson and Cong. Ed Towns refused to sign the petition for the “Central Park Six.” Cong. Charles Rangel and Greg Meeks did sign it. May 6: UAM Weekly Forum at Elks Plaza,1068 Harriet Tubman (Fulton Street) near Classon Avenue in Brooklyn at 7:30 p.m. Take the “C” train to Franklin Avenue. Three blocks to Elks Plaza. Admission is free.
Dr. Arthur Lewis will be the keynote speaker. His topic is “Swine Flu: Man-made or Pig-made.”
May 17:UAM will sponsor a bus trip to hear UAM Chairman Alton Maddox speak at the United Missionary Baptist Church, 228 So. Harrison Street, East Orange, N.J., at 3:30 p.m. on Brown v. Board of Education, 1954-2009. May 17 is the 55th anniversary of this landmark case. This will be the most complete, African-centered presentation on the evolution of Black education in the United States.
May 22-25:UAM’s bus trip to the Gullah Festival in historic Beaufort, S.C.
July 5-August 1: Freedom Retreat for Boys and Girls for children ages 7-15 in the Catskill Mountains. Call UAM at (718) 834-9034 for further information.
See: www.reinstatealtonmaddox.net for “Bloomberg, Klein and Black Mentacide,” “Somali Pirates or African Robin Hoods?” and “Somali Youth and Martial Law.”