Black Lawyers of Missouri: 150 Years of Progress and Promise.

AuthorEpps, Willie J., Jr.

TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT 1 TABLE OF CONTENTS 3 I. INTRODUCTION 4 II. JUST THE BEGINNING, 1871-1921 7 A. John H. Johnson 13 B. Albert Burgess 16 C. Hale Giddings Parker 20 D. Walter Moran Farmer 22 E. D.D. Sledge 26 F. L. Amasa Knox 27 G. Charles Henry Calloway 29 H. Homer G. Phillips 30 I. Silas E. Garner 31 J. Laws Designed to Hold Back Pioneering Black Lawyers 32 III. STRUGGLE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS, 1921-1971 34 A. George L. Vaughn 36 B. Sidney Redmond 36 C. Dorothy L. Freeman 39 D. Margaret Bush Wilson 39 E. Frankie Muse Freeman 40 F. Leona Pouncey Thurman 43 G. Lula Morgan Howard 44 IV. INCREASED OPPORTUNITIES IN THE PROFESSION, 1971-2021 55 A. Majority Law Firms in Missouri 56 B. Black Law Firms in Missouri 73 C. High Profile Majority-Minority Partnerships 80 D. The Judges 81 E. The Public Lawyers 127 F. The Executives 144 F. The Professors 153 V. THE BAR ASSOCIATIONS 162 A. American Bar Association 163 B. National Bar Association 164 C. The Missouri Bar 167 D. Metropolitan Bar Associations 173 VI. CONCLUSION 179 I. INTRODUCTION

As we celebrate the Missouri Bicentennial, (1) it is time to observe how the professional, political, and social standing of Black lawyers in Missouri has progressed substantially. Black lawyers occupy important and prestigious positions in the State, including: partners at large law firms; general counsel and executive officers of corporations and large companies; the Mayor of Kansas City; the Circuit Attorney in the City of St. Louis; the Prosecuting Attorney for St. Louis County; the Executive Director of The Missouri Bar; and tenured professors at the four Missouri law schools. (2) A Black man currently presides as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Missouri, and a Black woman now sits on the Supreme Court of Missouri. (3) Black men and women hold ten federal trial judgeships. (4) Two Black Kansas City trial lawyers even star in a nationally syndicated television show, Couples Court with the Cutlers. (5)

Even so, Black lawyers across the nation have struggled mightily for equality, fairness, and opportunity and remain underrepresented in the legal profession. (6) This Article focuses on that struggle in Missouri, where Black attorneys have challenged the legal system to live up to its promise of equal justice under the law. These inspiring individuals have overcome widespread discrimination and oppression to gain admission to the bar, integrate law schools and bar associations, and advance the cause of civil rights forall. Despite the monumental struggle of this State's Black attorneys, their stories, and those of their allies, remain largely untold. This Article shines a spotlight on the important history of Blacks, principally in the Missouri legal profession: from the first Black lawyer to those practicing today.

Part II of the Article examines the inception of Black lawyers in Missouri from 1871 to 1921, emphasizing those who have not yet received their due on the stage of history. (7) Part III focuses on Black lawyers in the State between 1921 and 1971, highlighting the major civil rights cases first litigated here and eventually argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. Particular attention is paid to Missouri Blacks who struggled to integrate, navigate, and improve Missouri's legal institutions. Part IV, the bulk of the Article, delves into the backgrounds and profiles of Black lawyers from 1971 to the present. Part V examines the history and role of majority and minority bar associations, including when, where, and why Blacks formed their own bar associations, contributing to the quest for equality and opportunity.


"The race problem in the United States is the type of unpleasant problem which we would rather do without but which refuses to be buried."

--Charles Hamilton Houston (8)

The first record of any Black lawyer in Missouri appears in 1871, some 50 years after Missouri entered the Union as a slave state. (9) Racial exclusion, hostility, and even terrorism were the norm during this era. (10)

Indeed, the Missouri Compromise was the first congressional attempt to find a solution to America's tolerance of slavery. (11) As new states sought to join the Union, the question whether they could allow slavery arose. (12) Missouri sought admission as a slave state. (13) To keep the balance in the Senate, Maine was admitted as a free state. (14) Henry Clay--a slaveholder--is credited with orchestrating the Missouri Compromise, allowing enslavement to continue for the next four decades. (15)

There is no record of any Black lawyer in the United States in 1821. (16) But in the 1840s, several Blacks gained admission to state bars. (17) Macon Bolling Allen, the first known Black lawyer in the United States, passed the Maine bar examination in 1844. (18) "He was sponsored for admission by General Samuel Fessenden, an abolitionist and politician with what was then the largest law practice in Maine." (19) Allen was also the first Black admitted in Massachusetts on May 5, 1845. (20) Two years later, Robert Morris, Sr., the second Black lawyer in the United States, became the first to file a lawsuit. (21) In 1850, John Mercer Langston became the first Black known to apply to an American law school, in New York State. (22) Denied admission because of his race, he later was rejected by another law school in Cincinnati, Ohio. (23) In 1853, Langston served as an apprentice for Philemon Bliss, a White Ohio lawyer, publisher, and abolitionist, and was admitted to the bar the next year. (24) In 1855, White voters in Brownhelm, near Oberlin, Ohio, elected Langston as township clerk, making him "the nation's first elected Black official." (25)

During the Civil War, in a public reply to New York journalist Horace Greeley, President Abraham Lincoln wrote:

If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps save the Union. (26) Indeed, Chief Justice Michael A. Wolff of the Missouri Supreme Court summarized the times:

As a border state, Missouri was having a real civil war, from which [the State is] still in recovery. Members of the same families fought one another. [Missouri's] battles, not as big or as well known as Vicksburg, Shiloh and Gettysburg, were nonetheless brutal. Acts of terrorism by small cadres abounded. Missouri was said to have at least three distinct factions: The Charcoals, so called because of their demand for the immediate end of slavery. The Claybanks, because their principles were thought to be "pallid gray" - they were unionists, but they favored gradual emancipation. Some of these loyal unionists were themselves slaveholders. And, of course, there were confederates. President Lincoln, exasperated in 1863 by the bitter divisions among [the State's] unionists, wrote: "It is very painful to me that you in Missouri cannot, or will not, settle your factional quarrel among yourselves. I have been tormented with it beyond endurance for months, by both sides. Neither side pays the least respect to my appeals to your reason." (27) Later in 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves within the rebellious southern states. (28) The second half of the 1860s represented a more hopeful, if short-lived, era of Reconstruction, with ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, 1868, and 1870, respectively. (29) The first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan rose after the Civil War and fell, for a period, thanks largely to President Ulysses S. Grant's creation of the United States Department of Justice. (30) Howard University established the first law school for Blacks in 1869. (31) That year, George Lewis Ruffin became the first Black graduate of a U.S. law school, earning his law degree from Harvard Law School. (32)

Racial violence abounded in Missouri during Reconstruction, including shootings and lynchings. General Clinton B. Fisk, (33) a White senior official in the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands during Reconstruction, described post-war Missouri:

Slavery dies hard. I hear its expiring agonies and witness its contortions in death in every quarter of my district. In Boone, Howard, Randolph, and Callaway[,] the emancipation ordinance has caused disruption of society equal to anything I saw in Arkansas or Mississippi in the year 1863. I blush for my race when I discover the wicked barbarity of the late masters and mistresses of the recently freed persons of the counties heretofore named. I have no doubt but that the monster, [deceased Confederate guerilla] Jim Jackson, is instigated by the late slave owners to hang or shoot every negro he can find absent from the old plantations. Some few have driven their Black people away from them with nothing to eat or scarcely to wear. The consequence is, between Jim Jackson and his colaborers among the first families, the poor Blacks are rapidly concentrating in the towns and especially at garrisoned places. My hands and heart are full. I am finding homes for them in Northwest Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, and Iowa. There is much sickness and suffering amoung them; many need help. (34) Freed Blacks not only lacked resources, skills, training, and education, but they were also subjected to the daily horrors of anti-Black sentiment and violence dominating Missouri. Professor Gary R. Kremer, the Executive Director, Secretary, and Librarian of the State Historical Society of Missouri, captured this anti-Black sentiment from an account in the widely distributed Lexington Weekly Caucasian newspaper:

We want to see [ex-slaves] all quietly and happily settle in Liberia, where they may indeed enjoy the full blessings of liberty... equality, and...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT