President’s Message

Febrary 2024

It’s February – the month of Valentine’s Day.  It is also Black History Month.

We have been blessed to have had trailblazing women lawyers to inspire us.  Many of these icons were African American.  In honor of Black History Month, I have chosen three whose stories I hope you will enjoy.

Hon. Jane Matilda Bolin.  When entering Yale Law School in 1928, Jane Matilda Bolin was one of three women students and the only black woman.  Her father was the first black attorney in Dutchess County, and as a girl, she spent hours in his law office.  She attended Wellesley College, where her advisor tried to discourage her from applying to law school, warning of little opportunity for women of color.  Nonetheless, she applied and was accepted to Yale Law School, and in 1931, she was their first female black graduate.  Initially, Bolin was not able to get a position at any local law firm.  She later said, “I was rejected on account of being a woman, but I’m sure that race also played a part.”  In 1937, she became Assistant Corporation Counsel of New York City— the first black woman in that office.  In 1939, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed her, at only 31, Judge of the Domestic Relations Court (now Family Court), making her the first black woman jurist in the nation.  She was a Family Court Judge for 40 years and spearheaded many changes, including assigning probation officers regardless of race or religion.  Judge Bolin retired in December 1978 but remained active in children’s rights and education.  https://nysba.org/NYSBA/Sections/Women%20in%20Law/Trailblazers/CWIL_Trailblazers_Brochure.pdf

Eunice Carter, Esq.  A few years later, Eunice Carter, Esq. was one of the first black women to become a prosecutor.   She was born in 1899 in Atlanta.  Her grandparents were slaves.  Carter moved to New York and was a Social Worker in the 1920’s.  She took classes at Fordham Law School and was the first African American woman to receive a law degree there.  Mayor La Guardia and special prosecutor Thomas Dewey, Esq. hired her in 1935.  She was the first female African American ADA in New York.  She was one of 20 attorneys who fought against organized crime.

D.A. Carter worked in Harlem.  While investigating and prosecuting prostitution, she noticed a link between the same bondsmen and attorneys and heard stories from the women about prostitution as a racket.  She recommended to Prosecutor Dewey that they investigate this.  He agreed, leading to the arrest and conviction of the famous mobster, Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

Eunice Carter’s work was instrumental in this effort.

She later served on the United Nations committee to advance the status of women. https://www.fordham.edu/school-of-law/alumni/alumni-of-distinction/eunice-carter/.

Hon. Constance Baker Motley.  Hon. Constance Baker Motley was raised near Yale University.  She experienced racism when she traveled to Tennessee and was told to sit in a “colored” train car.  This spurred her to attend law school.  She graduated from Columbia Law School in 1946.  As a front-line lawyer for the NAACP, Motley led the litigation that integrated the Universities of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi—overcoming governors who refused to admit black students.  Through her work, she made schools and parks accessible to African Americans and championed the rights of minorities to protest peacefully.

As part of her duties at the NAACP, Motley was the first African American woman to argue before the Supreme Court, and she prevailed on 9 of the 10 cases she argued.  She represented Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other protesters in cases against them for bus protests and sit-in’s.

After she left the NAACP in 1965, Motley entered New York politics, becoming the first African American woman in the state Senate and the first woman Manhattan Borough President.  In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her to the court in the Southern District of New York, making her the first African American woman on the federal bench.  In her memoir, she wrote, “I rejected any notion that my race or sex would bar my success in life.”   https://www.uscourts.gov/news/2020/02/20/constance-baker-motley-judiciarys-unsung-rights-hero.

These amazing women overcame the disadvantages of skin color and gender, pushing many boundaries to make our society a better and more equal place.

On to current business.  We have approved a new slate of Officers and Directors for the upcoming year, beginning in June.  You will see the list of leaders published in this newsletter.

One of our own, Ernestine J. Mings, Esq., a Board Member and DEI Committee Co-Chair, was elevated to partner at Blank Rome, LLP.  We are very proud of Ernestine and her accomplishments!

In 2024, the NYWBA has several important events on the calendar.  Our Judiciary Reception will be held on March 4th at the Yale Club in Manhattan.  We look forward to celebrating our Judges at this annual event.

Consider participating in the Cycle for Survival in memory of Amanda B. Norejko, Esq.  The date is March 9th from 1 – 5 pm.  The location is Equinox, 330 East 61st Street, New York City.  If you want to donate or join the team and spin, reach out to mglassman@gmail.com.

Our Annual Meeting is April 17th at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein and Selz, 28 Liberty Street, Manhattan.  We will have networking at 5:30 pm, meeting and elections at 6 pm, and an always fun and informative Ethics CLE program at 6:30 pm.  I hope you will join us for these three events.

Throughout February, I encourage you to find ways to celebrate Black History Month and for Valentine’s Day, to love not only others, but yourself.  Look to the words of Jamaican writer, June Jordan, who said “I am a feminist, and what that means to me is much the same as the meaning of the fact that I am Black; it means that I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life depends upon self-love and self-respect.”

Sabrina