History of the NBA
Legions of African-American lawyers affiliated with the National Bar Association ushered in the rule of law through the turbulent 1920s and 1930s, R.D. Evans, for example, who later became a member of the National Bar Association, tried the first case in Waco, Texas, to prevent the Democratic Party from forbidding “colored people” to vote in election primaries in 1919. From the 1920s through the 1950s, African-American lawyers such as the Honorable James A. Cobb, T. Gillis Nutter, and Ashbie Hawkins fought the famous segregation case of Louisville and the Covenants case of The District of Columbia. Early National Bar Association pioneers like S.D. McGill, R.P. Crawford, and J.L. Lewis fought to have sentences of execution stayed in the Florida case popularly referred to as the “Four Pompano Boys.” Wherever there was a fight to wage in defense of the rights of Blacks and poor people, the NBA was there.
When the number of African-American lawyers barely exceeded 1,000 nationwide, the National Bar Association attempted to establish “free legal clinics in all cities with a colored population of 5,000 or more.” The National Bar Association was ahead of the “War on Poverty” programs of the 1960s, which gave birth to federal legal aid to the indigent. Members of the National Bar Association were leaders of the pro bono movement at a time when they could least afford to provide free legal services and before poverty law became profitable. When the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, the National Bar Association was only 25 years old. This decision culminated in a long struggle by African-American lawyers. Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American United States Supreme Court Justice, and United States District Court Judge Constance Baker Motley, the first African-American female federal judge, are two outstanding jurists who helped make Brown v. Board of Education a pivotal case in American Civil Rights history. Through continuing service, the National Bar Association has become known as America’s legal conscience.
For the National Bar Association, 1978 – 1979 proved to be the “Year of Affirmative Action.” In the wake of Bakke v. Regents of the University of California, the organization addressed pressing issues laid bare by this momentous decision. The National Bar Association gained international recognition for efforts on behalf of the disenfranchised and politically oppressed people of the world. March of 1981 saw the first National Bar Association Legislative Conference. The 1981 – 1982 bar year commenced on a historical note: Arnette R. Hubbard assumed leadership of the National Bar Association, making her the first woman president of a major bar association.
In May 1982, the National Bar Association named its mid-year dinner in honor of Gertrude E. Rush, the organization’s only woman co-founder. The Gertrude E. Rush Award Dinner’s past honorees include Ret. Gen. Julius Becton; Thomas Berkley, Esq., publisher of California’s Post Newspaper; Hon. Jane Bolin, the nation’s first African-American female judge; poetess Gwendolyn Brooks; Hon. Willie L. Brown, Jr., Mayor of San Francisco; Hon. Shirley Chisholm; Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr., Esq.; Hon. George W. Crockett, Jr.; Major General (Retired) Kenneth Gray; Rev. Jesse Jackson; Hon. Maynard H. Jackson; Hon. Barbara C. Jordan; Hon. Kweisi Mfume; Hon. Charles B. Rangel; Hon. Rodney Slater; Hon Maxine Waters; and Hon. L. Douglas Wilder. In 1986, the NBA Hall of Fame was inaugurated by then-President Fred D. Gray, Sr. to honor those lawyers who have been licensed to practice for 40 years or more, and who have made a significant contribution to the cause of justice. Several prominent National Bar Association members have been inducted into the Hall of Fame over the past few years. These inductees include Hon. Louis Stokes; Cora T. Walker, Esq.; Hon. William Cousins, Jr.; and Hon. L. Clifford Davis.
George S. Adams**
Jesse N. Baker**
S. Joe Brown**
Charles H. Calloway**
Wendell E. Green**
William H. Haynes**
Charles P. Howard, Sr**
L. Amasa Knox**
James B. Morris**
Gertrude E. Rush**
C. Francis Stradford**
George H. Woodson** (first president)
In 1989, the first Annual Wiley A. Branton Award Luncheon and Issues Symposium was held in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Symposium, established as a tribute to Wiley A. Branton, a stalwart in the Civil Rights arena, was first held in his hometown. Since 1989, the National Bar Association has used this Symposium as an avenue to discuss pressing social, legal, and political issues affecting our communities. The Wiley A. Branton Award Luncheon honorees include Hon. Dennis W. Archer; Hon. James E. Clyburn; Marilyn Crawford; Fred D. Gray, Esq.; Hon. Eugene Hamilton; Dr. Dorothy Irene Height; Hon. Earl F. Hillard; Elaine Jones, Esq.; Tom Joyner; Hon. Janet Reno; and H.T. Smith, Esq.
In 1992, the National Bar Association submitted comments to the proposed “incubator” program described by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its Memorandum Opinion and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making, FCC 92-361, released September 4, 1992. In that same year, comments were also submitted in response to the Notice of Proposal Policy Guidance issued by the United States Department of Education and published in the Federal Register on December 1, 1991. In 1996, the National Bar Association submitted comments before the (FCC) on the Matter of Streamlining Broadcast EEO Rules and Policies, Vacating the EEO Forfeiture Policy Statement, and Amending Section 1.80 of the Commission’s Rules to Include EEO Forfeiture Guidelines. Also, in 1996, the National Bar Association submitted an amicus curia brief in Sloan et al v. United States of America (Docket No. 96-8145) to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The focus of this case was the racially disparate impact of the enforcement of the federal “cocaine base distinction.”
Today, the National Bar Association is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of predominantly African-American lawyers, judges, educators, and law students. It has 84 affiliate chapters throughout the United States and affiliations in Canada, the United Kingdom, Africa Morocco, and the Caribbean. It represents a professional network of more than 60,000 lawyers, judges, educators, and law students.
National Bar Association Timeline
Founding and Incorporation
1924The National Bar Association was founded out of the Greenville Movement and the Convention of the Iowa Colored Bar Association.
1925During the first quarter of the 20th century, 12 African-American pioneers with a mutual interest in, and dedication to, justice and civil rights for all, helped structure the struggle of the African-American race in America. On August 1, the National Bar Association was incorporated in Des Moines.
The “Negro Bar Association” later called the National Bar Association was founded after some of the National Bar Association founders were denied membership in the American Bar Association. (Note: In 1911, William Henry Lewis became the first black lawyer admitted to The American Bar Association.)
Facing the Struggle
1930The National Bar Association was concerned about private and municipal law libraries excluding black lawyers from their premises because of race. Throughout the decade, Mrs. Sadie Tanner Mosell Alexander and her husband, Raymond Pace Alexander, initiated legal fights that began to open up restaurants, hotels, and movie theaters to blacks in Philadelphia.
1935Howard Law Dean and scholar Charles Hamilton Houston was also counsel to the NAACP. With his protégée Thurgood Marshall (who would later become a member), Houston began challenging Jim Crow in education with a successful challenge to racial segregation at the University of Maryland School of Law. They moved through the South, challenging Jim Crow in graduate schools and law schools before ending up where they always wanted to be: in the United States Supreme Court with a dream team of lawyers arguing that segregation in K-12 education violates the United States Constitution.
1937The late William Henry Hastie was appointed the nation’s first black federal judge.
1940The NBA attempted to establish “free legal clinics in all cities with a colored population of 5,000 or more.” Legal clinics, established in 12 states, were managed by a group of black lawyers. Contemporary poverty law and legal clinics can be traced to the legal aid movement initiated by the NBA. 1941 – Raymond Pace Alexander founded the National Bar Journal, which became a platform for black lawyers to challenge legal principles contrary to the interests of black Americans
1945There were nearly 250 members representing 25 percent of the African-American members of the bar.
1947The Rev. W. Harold Flowers, founder and former president of the National Bar Association, defended two black men who had been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of two white men. His motion to quash the entire jury because there had been no black jurors in nearly 50 years led to the placement of 13 blacks on the prospective jurors’ panel, with three eventually seated on the jury. The defendants were found guilty of lesser charges, marking the first time in Arkansas that a black man had not gone to the electric chair upon conviction in the death of a white man.
The Fight for Education
1950Sweatt v. Painter ~ Encouraged by their victory in Gaines’ case, the NAACP continued to attack legally sanctioned racial discrimination in higher education. In 1946, an African American man named Heman Sweatt applied to the University of Texas’ “white” law school. Hoping that it would not have to admit Sweatt to the “white” law school if a “black” school already existed, elsewhere on the University’s campus, the state hastily set up an underfunded “black” law school. At this point, Sweatt employed the services of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and sued to be admitted to the University’s “white” law school. He argued that the education that he was receiving in the “black” law school was not of the same academic caliber as the education that he would be receiving if he attended the “white” law school. When the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1950, the Court unanimously agreed with him, citing as its reason the blatant inequalities between the University’s law school (the school for whites) and the hastily erected school for blacks. In other words, the “black” law school was “separate,” but not “equal.” Like the Murray case, the Court found the only appropriate remedy for this situation was to admit Sweatt to the University’s law school.
1954Brown v. Board of Education ~ The case that came to be known as Brown v. Board of Education was the name given to five separate cases that were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the issue of segregation in public schools. These cases were Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Briggs v. Elliot, Davis v. Board of Education of Prince Edward County (VA.), Boiling v. Sharpe, and Gebhart v. Ethel. While the facts of each case are different, the main issue in each was the constitutionality of state-sponsored segregation in public schools. Once again, Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund handled these cases. When the cases came before the Supreme Court in 1952, the Court consolidated all five cases under the name of Brown v. Board of Education. Meeting to decide the case, the Justices of the Supreme Court realized that they were deeply divided over the issues raised. While most wanted to reverse Plessy and declare segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional, they had various reasons for doing so. Unable to come to a solution by June 1953 (the end of the Court’s 1952-1953 term), the Court decided to rehear the case in December 1953. During the intervening months, however, Chief Justice Fred Vinson died and was replaced by Gov. Earl Warren of California. After the case was reheard in 1953, Chief Justice Warren was able to do something that his predecessor had not — i.e. bring all of the Justices to agree to support a unanimous decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional. On May 14, 1954, he delivered the opinion of the Court, stating that “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. . .”
1960NBA Journal and News was established and focused on news and pictures of the membership and the business meetings of the NBA. (Eventually replaced by the NBA Bulletin) 1963 – March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom, MLK’s “I Have a Dream” Speech
1965Voting Rights Act signed
1968On December, 17 black lawyers, dissatisfied with the direction of the NBA established the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL).
1971Flowers was ordained as a Methodist minister in 1971.
1972The Women’s Division of the NBA was approved in October.
19572During the 46th Annual NBA Convention in Atlanta, the NBA tried to organize a student division. The effort failed, but today there is a growing number of law student members.
1977Flowers was the first black named a special circuit judge for Jefferson County.
1978Proved to be the “Year of Affirmative Action.” In the wake of Bakke v. Regents of the University of California, the organization addressed pressing issues laid bare by this momentous decision.
A Permanent Home
1940The NBA attempted to establish “free legal clinics in all cities with a colored population of 5,000 or more.” Legal clinics, established in 12 states,
1980Former U.S. President, then-Gov. Bill Clinton appointed the Rev. Flowers as an associate justice of the state Court of Appeals. 1981 – The bar year commenced on a historical note: Arnette R. Hubbard assumed leadership, making her the first woman president of a major bar association.
1981In March the first NBA Legislative Conference was held.
1982In May, the NBA named its mid-year dinner in honor of Gertrude E. Rush, the organization’s only woman co-founder.
1984The NBA purchased its official headquarters at 1225 11th Street, NW Washington, DC 20001.
1986The NBA Hall of Fame was inaugurated by then-President Fred D. Gray, Sr. to honor those lawyers who have been licensed to practice for 40 years or more and who have made a significant contribution to the cause of justice.
1988The first black U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall addressed the NBA at its annual convention in August.
1989Mrs. Alexander, a lawyer and civil rights advocate who achieved many firsts as a black woman, died at 91. Mrs. Alexander was the first black woman to earn a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania – and the first nationwide to earn a doctorate in economics. She was the first black woman to graduate from Penn’s Law School, and then the first admitted to legal practice in Pennsylvania.
End of an Era
1992The NBA submitted comments to the proposed “incubator” program described by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its Memorandum Opinion and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making, FCC 92-361, released September 4, 1992. In that same year, comments were also submitted in response to the Notice of Proposal Policy Guidance issued by the United States Department of Education and published in the Federal Register on December 1, 1991. 1995 – The Million Man March, also known as the Holy Day of Atonement, took place on October 16 in Washington, DC. The call to organize one million black men to stand up for their families, and communities and to atone with one another came from the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. Although Hon. Min. Farrakhan called for one million men, and more than two million men from all over the nation showed up. The Holy Day of Atonement/Anniversary of the Million Man March is celebrated annually on October 16 by fasting, praying, focusing on atonement and reconciliation, and not buying anything that day to show economic solidarity. 1996 – The NBA submitted comments before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the Matter of Streamlining Broadcast EEO Rules and Policies, Vacating the EEO Forfeiture Policy Statement, and Amending Section 1.80 of the Commission’s Rules to Include EEO Forfeiture Guidelines.
A New Millennium
1940The NBA attempted to establish “free legal clinics in all cities with a colored population of 5,000 or more.” Legal clinics, established in 12 states,
2000The NBA’s first annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major for Justice Advocacy Competition was held at its 75th Annual Convention in Washington, D.C. 2001 – Crump Law Camp inaugural class was established. The camp is designed to provide students between the ages of 14 and 17 and/or entering the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades with a comprehensive introduction to the American judicial and legal system.
2008Barack Obama, is sworn in as the 44th President, and the first black president in the United States
201350th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom
2013Voting Rights Act suffers blows by SCOTUS in Shelby v. Holder VRAA introduced in the House.
201450th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education
201450th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.
Sources: Wikipedia, National Bar Association, “The Black Bar Association and Civil Rights” by J. Clay Smith, Jr., Creighton Law Review (Vol. 15, No. 3 – 1981-1982)