Constance Baker Motley

Constance Baker Motley

African American civil rights activist, lawyer, judge and state senator
Date of Birth: 14.09.1921
Country: USA

  1. Biography of Constance Baker Motley
  2. Education and Legal Career
  3. Senator, President, and Federal Judge
  4. Recognition and Legacy

Biography of Constance Baker Motley

Constance Baker Motley, an African-American civil rights activist, lawyer, judge, and state senator, was born on September 14, 1921, in New Haven, Connecticut. She was the ninth of twelve children born to parents who had emigrated from Nevis, an island in the Caribbean. Her mother established a branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in New Haven.

Constance Baker Motley

Education and Legal Career

Motley initially attended Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee, with the financial support of local philanthropist Clarence Blakeslee. She later decided to return to the North and enrolled at New York University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1943. Motley then went on to earn a law degree from Columbia University School of Law.

Constance Baker Motley

Her career officially began as a law clerk at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), where she worked alongside renowned civil rights attorneys Thurgood Marshall, Jack Greenberg, and others. As the first female attorney for the fund, Motley became an associate counsel, making her a lead attorney with the right to argue cases in court. She was successful in nine out of ten cases she argued at the Supreme Court, with the tenth decision regarding jury composition ultimately being overturned in her favor.

Additionally, Motley played a key role as a legal strategist in the civil rights movement, helping to fight against segregation policies and racially discriminatory laws in schools, public transportation, and other areas.

Senator, President, and Federal Judge

In 1964, Motley became the first African-American woman elected to the New York State Senate. In 1965, she was appointed as the president of the borough of Manhattan, a position no woman had held before her. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Motley as a federal judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, making her the first African-American woman to serve as a federal judge. She held this position, including serving as the chief judge, until her death.

Recognition and Legacy

Motley was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993. In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal, which is second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2003, the NAACP honored her with the Spingarn Medal, the organization's highest award. Motley was also an honorary member of the women's society, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Constance Baker Motley passed away on September 28, 2005, from heart failure at a hospital in New York City. Her funeral was held at the Episcopal Church of St. Luke in New Haven, Connecticut, where she had previously been married.