Constance Baker Motley


Constance Baker Motley (14 September 1921–28 September 2005) was an African American civil rights activist, lawyer, judge, state senator, and President of Manhattan, New York City.

She was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the ninth of twelve children. Her parents had immigrated from Nevis, in the Caribbean; her mother was the founder of the New Haven chapter of the NAACP. With financial help from a local philanthropist, Clarence Blakeslee, she initially attended Fisk University, a historically black college in Tennessee, before deciding to move to an integrated university. Motley graduated from New York University in 1943, then received her law degree from Columbia Law School in 1946. Her legal career began as a law clerk in the fledgling NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), where she worked with Thurgood Marshall, Jack Greenberg, and others. The LDF’s first female attorney, she became Associate Counsel to the LDF, making her the NAACP’s lead trial attorney.

In 1950 she wrote the original complaint in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. The first African-American woman ever to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, in Meredith v. Fair she successfully won James Meredith’s effort to be the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi. Motley was successful in nine of the ten cases she argued before the Supreme Court. The tenth decision, regarding jury composition, was eventually overturned in her favor. She was otherwise a key legal strategist in the civil rights movement, helping to desegregate Southern schools, buses, and lunch counters.

In 1964, Motley became the first African American woman elected to the New York State Senate. In 1965, she was chosen Manhattan Borough President—the first woman in that position. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson named her a federal court judge—the first African American woman so named—where she continued (including a term as chief judge) until her death. At the time of her death, she was a district judge for the United States District Court Southern District of New York.

Video Clips For Constance Baker Motley


Equal Justice Under Law: An Autobiography by Constance Baker Motley

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