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American Legal History: Amplifying Forgotten Voices

April 1930. A group of representatives from National Association Women Lawyers gathered to see President Hoover regarding sending United States Plenipotentiaries to the Hague to vote for a World Code of equality between men and women.

The first thought when many individuals hear the phrase "legal history" is undoubtedly of dusty volumes discussing matters that do not reflect our modern society. Perhaps that is because history is often the narrative of the dominant culture and sometimes omits those in the margins.  This month at the law library we are featuring a book display and online guide on American Legal History which features stories of minoritized lawyers. This display is about shining a light on the fight for inclusion and the stories of trailblazing attorneys.

One example of such a trailblazer was Fred David Gray, Sr. Gray was an ordained minister and an attorney and he represented such famous clients as Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Fr., the Freedom Riders, and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study participants. When he was to attend law school, his state, Alabama, “offered no in‐state opportunity for African Americans to obtain legal education, relying instead on the discredited out‐of‐state subsidy.” While famous for being a civil rights attorney, he was also President of the Alabama Bar Association. One biography of Gray reads, “as a young man, Gray decided to ‘destroy everything segregated that I could find’. He didn’t completely fulfill this ambition, but he came astonishingly close. Working usually (though not always) with other lawyers, he played an enormous role in undermining segregation in almost every area of Alabama life.” Another explains, “In 2017, he joined the ranks of South African political and civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, U.S. president Jimmy Carter, and humanitarian Mother Teresa in being awarded a Lifetime Service Award from HOPE International, a worldwide humanitarian and relief organization.“ Attorney Gray’s career is distinguished and an inspiration at all lawyers and law students. 

This month’s book display and guide celebrate books and resources on female attorneys, African-American attorneys, Native American attorneys, and the ways in which those attorneys overcame hurdles and bias in the American legal system. It also features a book on Feminist legal history which discusses the way in which gender bias and discrimination in the legal system and American society have disadvantaged women, not just female attorneys. For more information on this topic, see our guide.

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