Research African-Americans' Contributions to Legal History

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Shannon Furtak

In September of 1915, Dr. Carter G. Woodson helped found the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The Association had the initial goal of bringing the historical contributions of African-Americans to national attention at a time when these contributions were largely overlooked; today, the organization's mission is to promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community.

In 1926, ASALH declared the second week of each February to be "Negro History Week." This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Negro History Week grew in popularity over time, eventually becoming Black History Month. The U.S. government officially recognized this expansion as part of the United States Bicentennial events in 1976. Black History Month has also been celebrated in the United Kingdom since 1987 and in Canada since 1995.

Celebrating Key Figures in African-American Legal History

On July 3, 1844, Macon Bolling Allen became the first African-American admitted to the bar anywhere in the United States. For the first time in history, free blacks began to receive representation in courts. F. Mark Terison authored this excellent tribute, Macon Bolling Allen: A Milestone for Maine, available in HeinOnline.

Eric H. Holder, Jr. is the first African-American to have served as both the Deputy U.S. Attorney General, and later, as the Attorney General of the United States. View a list of cases* occurring during his term by searching across all subscribed collections from the HeinOnline Welcome Page for "Eric H. Holder" AND "Attorney General". Select Cases under the Section Type facet, and sort by most-cited to view the most influential cases first:

*Case law options are available to Fastcase Premium subscribers.

Constance Baker Motley was a civil rights activist, lawyer, judge, senator, and Borough President of Manhattan. She authored 24 law review articles which appear in HeinOnline, many dealing with civil rights. She also wrote about Thurgood Marshall, under whom she served as a law clerk in 1945. To find her articles, enter "Constance Baker Motley" in the Author/Creator field from the Advanced Search tool in the Law Journal Library and click search:

Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court justice. Prior to becoming a judge, he founded and became the executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. His most well-known case as a lawyer was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, available in HeinOnline's U.S. Supreme Court Library.  ScholarCheck statistics reflect that this case has been cited by nearly 22,000 articles and more than 2,300 subsequent cases:

This is an extremely short list of the pioneers who paved the way for future achievements in both the law and society by people of color. HeinOnline has an abundance of information on President Barack Obama, whose top 50 accomplishments as the first African-American to hold the office of U.S. President are described in this Washington Monthly list.

Join us in celebrating Black History Month, these incredible Americans, and their ideals, contributions, and leadership skills.

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