As we celebrate Black History Month, we reflect upon the important history of the Black legal community in Georgia. The first Black attorney admitted to the Georgia Bar, Styles Hutchins, was admitted in 1878. He spent much of his career practicing in Chattanooga, and served as a member of the Tennessee legislature. In the early 1940s future Atlanta Municipal Court Judge Rachel E. Pruden-Herndon became the first Black woman to pass the Georgia bar exam and be admitted to the Georgia Bar.
Several other Black members of the Georgia legal community played key roles in the civil rights movement and desegregation efforts in Georgia. Georgia attorneys including future United States District Judge Horace T. Ward, legendary civil rights attorney Donald Hollowell, and Vernon Jordan, a future leader of the National Urban League and political advisor, launched a series of challenges that ultimately led to the beginning of desegregation at the University of Georgia and Georgia State University. Another prominent Black Atlanta attorney, Howard Moore, Jr., was involved in the landmark case Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, in which the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed Congress’s authority to prohibit discrimination in public accommodations by private businesses involved in interstate commerce.
In 1948 ten African-American Atlanta lawyers, including attorney and mentor A.T. Walden, founded the Gate City Bar Association, a professional association dedicated to supporting African-American attorneys in Georgia. The Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys was founded in 1981 to promote the involvement of Black women attorneys and increase focus on women’s and children’s issues. These associations continue to work to support African-American attorneys in Georgia through education, community involvement, and events. These efforts include the Justice Robert Benham Law Camp, an three-week summer program presented in partnership with the Georgia State University College of Law. The program, named after the first African-American member of the Georgia Supreme Court, introduces minority high school students to the study of law and gives them an opportunity to intern with lawyers in the metro Atlanta area.
The Law Library and other GSU libraries have numerous books and other resources available for those wishing to learn more about the history of Black attorneys in Georgia. These resources include the following books:
- Louise Hollowell & Martin C. Lehfeldt, The Sacred Call: A Tribute to Donald Hollowell, Civil Rights Champion
- Maurice C. Daniels, Saving the Soul of Georgia: Donald L. Hollowell and the Struggle for Civil Rights
- Voices of Civil Rights Lawyers: Reflections From the Deep South, 1964-1980 (Kent Spriggs, ed.)
- Rebecca Shriver Davis, Justice Leah Ward Sears: Seizing Serendipity
- Maurice C. Daniels, Horace T. Ward: Desegregation of the University of Georgia, Civil Rights Advocacy, and Jurisprudence
- Herman “Skip” Mason, Jr., Politics, Civil Rights, and Law in Black Atlanta, 1870-1970
- J. Clay Smith, Jr., Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944