2023 - 2024 Spotlights

FBA Maryland Chapter Celebrates Black History Month Spotlighting Thurgood Marshall

Profile Summary by Samantha Miller

Perhaps the most famous Black legal hero in American history is Thurgood Marshall, and rightfully so. In spite of deeply entrenched racism, Marshall reached the pinnacle of the legal profession, becoming the first Black United States Solicitor General and—of course—the first Black Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

While Marshall is a national figure, he occupies a special (and complicated) place in Baltimore history. He was born in Baltimore on July 2, 1908, where he spent the majority of his childhood. He attended Lincoln University, our nation’s first HBCU, where he excelled academically and was a decorated competitive debater. After college, Marshall decided to pursue a career in law. His hometown law school at the University of Maryland, however, was all-white, and Marshall was ineligible to attend because of the color of his skin. Undeterred, Marshall matriculated at the Howard University of Law and went on to graduate first in his class.

Marshall devoted his career to dismantling racist structures that permeated American life and was a leader in the Civil Right Movement. Early in his career, he represented Black law school applicant who, like him, was turned away from the University of Maryland. Marshall won the case, convincing Maryland’s highest court that the University of Maryland’s segregationist policy was unconstitutional. This early victory would foreshadow one of Marshall’s greatest triumphs, which came roughly twenty years later.

Marshall joined the NAACP in 1936 and, in 1940, founded the organization’s storied Legal Defense Fund. For over twenty years, Marshall and the NAACP challenged state-sponsored segregation in courts all over the country. His representations sometimes put him in personal danger. During one case in Florida, where Marshall represented four Black men wrongfully accused of raping a white woman, Marshall received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan. Marshall, however, refused to be intimidated in his pursuit of justice.

Marshall’s work with the NAACP sometimes brought him before the United States Supreme Court. Of the 32 cases he argued before the Court, he won 29 of them. Marshall’s most celebrated victory was in the seminal case Brown vs. Board of Education, the case through which the Supreme Court declared segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional.

In 1961, Marshall became a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Several years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall as the U.S. Solicitor General, the first Black person to occupy the role. Marshall was, of course, not finished with “firsts”: in 1967, Marshall because the first Black Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Marshall spent more than two decades on the Supreme Court. He was a consistent vote on liberal issues and, as the Court became more conservative, frequently wrote in dissent. Marshall died in 1993 at the age of 84, but his legacy lives on—as does his name. Baltimore’s airport is named for the pathbreaking jurist, as is the law library of the school that turned him away due to his race. The University of Maryland recently named another building after Marshall. As the school continues to celebrate this hero, it also acknowledges its complicity in the racist status quo that made Marshall’s ascent so improbable and awe-inspiring. Because of Thurgood Marshall, the law—and the country—has been forever changed for the better.

Spotlight on Lena King Lee: Educator, Attorney and Champion for Women and Children

Profile Summary by Evelyn Cusson

Lena King Lee was born on July 14, 1906 in Sumter, Alabama.  Her family moved to Illinois and then to Pennsylvania where her father found work as a coal miner and became an activist for worker’s rights. Lee’s father earned enough to send Lee and her siblings to private boarding school.  Lee graduated third in her class in which she was the only African American student.  She went on to earn a scholarship at Cheyney Training School, now Cheyney University near Philadelphia, and received a teaching certificate there in 1927.  Lee moved to Maryland to teach, first to Annapolis, and then to Baltimore.  She taught sixth grade and married Baltimore businessman Robert R. Lee in 1937, and two years later, received a bachelor’s degree in education from Morgan State College.  Like other African Americans, Lee was not permitted to enroll in graduate studies at the University of Maryland College Park, which remained segregated until 1951.  Undeterred, she earned a master’s degree from New York University in 1947, travelling to and from New York City every weekend. 

In 1947, Lee became the principal at the Henry H. Garnet Elementary School, where Thurgood Marshall had attended elementary school from 1914 to 1920.  That Fall, Lee decided to enter law school at the University of Maryland School of Law because she was frustrated by what she saw as the Baltimore City School Board’s long delay in promoting her to principal.  She continued to work during law school and had the strong support of her husband.  Lee graduated in 1951 and was admitted to the Maryland and Baltimore bars.  Lee was the first black woman to be admitted to the Bar Association of Baltimore City.  After obtaining her law degree, Lee continued her career as an educator, joining the American Federation of Teachers as its first black member and working in the Baltimore City School System.

Lee entered the civic arena in 1955 when Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro appointed her to the Baltimore Redevelopment Commission and then to the Baltimore Urban Renewal and Housing Agency.  Thereafter, Governor J. Millard Tawes appointed Lee to the new Maryland Advisory Council on Higher Education, which proposed a new governing structure for the University of Maryland and former state teachers colleges.  Lee retired from the Baltimore City Public School System in 1964 and began practicing law full-time with Nicholas & Gosnell.  She supported Joseph Tydings’s successful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and two years later, won the Democratic primary for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates.  Lee found political support among teachers and women.  During her legislative career, Lee made the interests of women and children her focus, supporting mandatory kindergartens, day care for low-income mothers, educational television, tougher penalties for child abuse, and improving schools.  She founded the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus. 

After retiring from the legislature due to health concerns, Lee continued a full-time law practice in the areas of family, contract, and criminal law.  Lee, like other African American women, had to fight the double barriers of race and gender to gain a foothold in the legal profession.  Lee used her background in education and her legal training as tools to fight discrimination and advocate for causes meaningful to women that we are continuing to grapple with today. 

*This profile is adapted from “African American Women Admitted to the Bar in Maryland, 1946-1974: Four Profiles of Public Calling,” at pp. 119-121, by Dean Phoebe A. Haddon in Finding Justice: A History of Women Lawyers in Maryland since 1642.

Our Second Black History Spotlight: Edward Garrison Draper

Profile Summary by Gina M. Smith, Esq.

Edward Garrison Draper was born free in 1834 in Baltimore, Maryland at a time when slavery was in full effect as the driving economic engine of the United States (U.S.).  Edward’s parents, Garrison and Charlotte Draper were the 1.5% of U.S. population living as free blacks. Although his education was limited, Garrison Draper ran a successful tobacco and cigar making business.

Determined that Edward would obtain a better education than himself, Garrison sent Edward to Philadelphia where the public school system was superior. Around this time, Garrison Draper became heavily involved in the Maryland Colonization Society. This Society was one of several active organizations which advanced the belief that blacks would never receive equality in the U.S. As a result, the Society advocated free blacks immigrate from the U.S. to an African colony now known as Liberia to establish a free community where they could live, work and prosper in a place where their humanity, dignity and worth would not be denied.

Following completion of public school, Edward entered Dartmouth College. Edward matriculated from Dartmouth with high marks and the determination to become a lawyer.  Once trained as a lawyer, Edward’s vision was to practice his profession not in the State in which he was born. This is because in Maryland in 1857 and for most of the 19th century becoming a lawyer required the applicant be white; a Maryland resident; 21 years or older; and having read the law. Therefore, likely influenced by his father, Edward would obtain the training he needed and then set up his practice in the freehold community now known as the country Liberia.

Until the late 19th century, law schools were uncommon in the U.S. Thus, most people completed the reading the law” requirement through independent study or apprenticeship, often under the supervision of an experienced attorney. Edward spent two years reading the law under the supervision of Baltimore attorney Charles Gillman.  Following his time with Attorney Gillman, Edward continued to learn his profession under the tutelage of prominent Harvard-educated attorney, Charles W. Storey. Attorney Storey would show Edward courtroom action.

In 1857, having completed his legal studies, Edward presented himself to the Honorable Zacheus Collins Lee. Judge Lee, a slave owner himself and first cousin of Confederate General, Robert E. Lee, was tasked with testing Edward’s legal knowledge and review of his qualifications. Upon completion Judge Lee wrote:

I have found him intelligent and well-informed in his answers to the questions propounded by me, and qualified in all respects to be admitted to the Bar in Maryland, if he was a free white citizen of this state.

Aware that Edward had no plans on testing the structural racism in place to integrate the Maryland Bar, Judge Lee provided young Edward with a certificate attesting to his legal qualifications.  True to his word, six days later Edward sailed to Liberia to begin a practice denied to him in his state of birth. Sadly, Edward died a year later from tuberculosis.

Maryland would continue to prevent non-whites from being admitted to the Bar until 1885 when Everett J. Waring a graduate of Howard Law became Maryland’s first admitted black lawyer. Thousands of black candidates, myself included, have followed Everett J. Waring by obtaining admission to Maryland’s Bar.

Edward Garrison Draper’s story may have never been known but for historian buffs Hon. John Browning (ret.), Hon. Carolyn Wright-Sanders (ret.) and others who have uncovered the stories of individuals buried in the history books denied entrance into the legal profession on the account of race. Their push for restorative justice for these individuals includes posthumous admission. And so, 166 years after his denial, on October 26, 2023, the Supreme Court of Maryland in a symbolic ceremony attended by Maryland’s first black Governor, Wes Moore, first black Attorney General Anthony Brown, and first black Chief Justice, Robert M. Bell, posthumously admitted Edward Waren Draper to Maryland’s Bar. Speaking at the ceremony Justice Angela M. Eaves said, “there is no expiration to do the right thing, even when more than a century and a half has gone by.” 

Justice Eaves words and the Court’s symbolic admission of a man long ago wrongly denied the right to practice this profession because of race encapsulate one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s most famous quotes “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Edward Draper Garrison’s arc is complete. He is now a member of the Maryland Bar.