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.