How The First Black Woman Lawyer Overcame Discrimination

Scales of Justice
Via Flickr
Shonda Buchanan
March 3, 2021

After her law school graduation, Charlotte E. Ray wasn’t going to beg some white lawyer to hire her, she was going to work for herself – an audacious move for the 19th century! 

But it wouldn’t be easy.

In 1857, few attorneys represented Black people, women, or the poor. Ray was determined to change this, focusing on bringing much-needed legal services to her community. But she was fighting two powerful enemies.

Both racism and sexism plagued her. Ray had fought discrimination before – she’d even applied to the Bar under the name “C.E. Ray” to disguise her gender, as women were prohibited from practicing law in Washington, D.C.

As the first Black woman lawyer in America, she aimed high – even arguing a case in the D.C. Supreme Court – but the times weren’t ready for her.

Few trusted a Black woman to defend them. She closed her law office, but still used her knowledge to help us and the women’s suffrage movement. 

Ray’s example started a revolution of women petitioning to be admitted to law school, challenging racism and gender discrimination.

It won’t always be easy to break the mold – and we might not see the benefits in our own lives. However, like Ray, our example can change the world in profound ways and inspire future generations!

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