With Black History Month upon us, it is important to study the lives and accomplishments of the famous and not-so-famous, but still notable, African Americans who have inspired so many. As an aspiring attorney, those moments are spent thinking about those black attorneys that refused to be stopped by the color of their skin and the attitudes of society and pursued their education and careers.
The first lawyer who comes to mind is Thurgood Marshall, a lawyer that not only helped change the basis of how this country was run but also made history by being the first African American and minority to be appointed Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court. His entire career has forever cemented him in both Black History and American history as a man vital to our country’s growth.
Although Justice Marshall is probably the most famous African American lawyer, he was not the first. That distinction belongs to Macon Allen. Born on August 4, 1816, Macon Bolling Allen (born Allen Macon Bolling) taught himself how to read and write before becoming a school teacher. At the age of 28, in 1844, he passed the Maine Bar in Portland and became the first African American attorney. In a time when slavery and racism were the norm and deemed morally right in most of the country, he took a chance and went for his goal of becoming an attorney. He refused to believe that something was impossible, and in turn, showed people that African Americans are just as capable as white Americans.
Of course, this all happened in 1844, 17 years before the Civil War and the beginning to the end of slavery. As expected, most people refused to hire him because of his race, and those that did hire him did not provide enough work to support him. Instead of simply accepting defeat, in 1845 he moved to Boston and passed the Massachusetts Bar and began to practice law. He continued to work as a lawyer until 1848, when he passed the qualifying exam and became the first African American to hold a judicial position by becoming a Justice of the Peace for Massachusetts. After the Civil War ended, he continued pushing for change in the legal field and started his own law firm in the heart of the South – Charleston, South Carolina. He was appointed to a judgeship on the Inferior Court of Charleston in 1873, and elected probate judge a year later. Following Reconstruction he worked in Washington, D.C. as an attorney for the Land and Improvement Association, practicing law until his death.
Macon Bolling Allen is a story of determination and will. Despite the constant struggles and difficulties of racism and prejudice, he continued to move forward and attain his goals. He never slowed for a moment, or considered the possibility of failure, and isn’t that the attitude needed to practice the law? That there is never a final failure, but simply a detour to a new plan of action? His life embodies one of the most important aspects of practicing the law: to never give up or surrender and to always give it everything you have until there is nothing left.
His story is and should be an inspiration to all. It is an inspiration to any attorney fresh out of law school facing hardships and wondering if they made the right decision. It’s an inspiration to successful attorneys that wonder if there is anything else they can accomplish. It is an inspiration to anyone, minority or otherwise, that believes a dream is possible. It is an inspiration to attorneys and anyone that has experienced failure and has considered giving up. Macon Bolling Allen’s story is one everyone should hear, and this Black History Month, we hope it inspires you to know that anything is possible as long as you do not give up.
Guest blog post authored by DeMarcus Williams. DeMarcus Williams serves on the legal support staff of Cory Watson Attorneys and begins law school in the fall of 2016. A Birmingham, Alabama native and lifelong resident of the city, he graduated with honors from Ramsay High School in 2011. He graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biomedical Engineering from the Science and Technology Honors College of the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2015. DeMarcus has been accepted to law school at Duke University, The University of Alabama, Wake Forest University Cumberland School of Law and Penn State.