Black History Month Spotlight: Chronicle of Black Lawyers in North Carolina, Vol. 1-3

February 8, 2023

In March of 1981, the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers published The Chronicle of Black Lawyers in North Carolina, Volume One: The Pioneers, 1865-1950. Two more volumes followed in 1984 and 1990, focused on civil rights pioneers from 1950-1970 and African-American female pioneers, 1947-1990, respectively. Each volume contains a list of Black attorneys from North Carolina accompanied by photographs, short biographies, and lists of accomplishments where available. Each also contains short essays on topics like “The History of Black Lawyers in North Carolina,” “The History of the Organization [NCABL] in a Nutshell,” and more information about the association.

Published over the course of ten years, the project evolved with each volume. Information about nineteenth century Black attorneys in North Carolina is understandably more scant than that of later twentieth century attorneys. Some entries in the first volume have short biographical essays about the major accomplishments by the attorneys in that period, while others only list names and dates of admittance to the bar. The second volume, covering 1950-1970, has longer essays and biographies and a list of Black judges in North Carolina, as well as more information about the NCABL.

The third volume, on Black female pioneers, is the most expansive. It contains a “Chronology of African-Americans and Women in the Legal Profession in the U.S.,” letters from “special guest pioneers,” and entries on Black female attorneys that include timelines, photographs, biographical essays, and reproductions of newspaper articles about their accomplishments. This volume also contains essays and lists of pioneers in different aspects of legal practice like private practice and corporations, the judiciary, government, and public interest organizations.

These volumes are an important resource for researching the history of Black lawyers in North Carolina. Other works go beyond this introduction; researchers might consult the North Carolina Central School of Law’s website for information about the history of legal education during Jim Crow segregation, or the website of the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers for more on organization’s history. Other scholarship covers the integration of UNC’s law school or the “Old Black Corporate Bar: Durham’s Wall Street, 1898-1971.” The NCABL produced a film about the first three Black female attorneys in the state as well, which can be found in Wilson Library. Several biographies of groundbreaking Black attorneys are also available from UNC libraries, like one on Julius Chambers, a leader in civil rights litigation (in print and online), and a new biography of Elreta Melton Alexander, the first Black woman to practice law in North Carolina (also in print and online).

The history of Black lawyers in North Carolina is rich and ever-growing, and the Chronicle and other works provide an excellent foundation for research on the subject.