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Constance Baker Motley: A Biography

Constance Baker Motley was born on September 14, 1921, in New Haven, Connecticut. She was the ninth of twelve children born to parents, whom emigrated from the island of Nevis in the West Indies. Her mother was Rachel Baker and she was a founder of the New Haven NAACP.

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Her father was Willoughby Alva Baker and he was a chef for student organizations at Yale University. At the age of fifteen, Constance joined the local NAACP were she was denied admission to a local skating rink and public beach.

This is what sparked her interest in law and helped her pioneering career as a civil rights lawyer, lawmaker and judge (which spanned six decades) and was highlighted by numerous historic achievements, including the first African American elected to the New York Senate, the first black woman to hold the position of Manhattan Borough President, and the first African American woman appointed to serve as a federal district judge. Constance attended New Haven’s integrated public schools.

By the age of 15, she decided that she wanted to be a lawyer because of all the active reading she was doing. She also attended Fisk University and then transferred to New York University, were she received a bachelor’s degree in economics. She was accepted at Columbia University Law School in 1944 and she went and graduated in 1946. In 1945, she became the law clerk for Thurgood Marshall, then became the chief counsel of the NAACP’S Legal Defense and their educational fund.

Over the next 20 years, she did some hard work on some of the United States’ civil rights cases, including preparing the draft complaint in 1950, for what would later become Brown v. Board of Education. In the early 1960’s, Motley successfully argued for one thousand schoolchildren, who were expelled for demonstrating. She also represented a group called the “Freedom Fighters,” who rode interstate buses to test desegregation laws. From 1961 to 1964, Motley won nine of ten civil rights cases because she argued with the Supreme Court decision on every case.

In the late 1960’s, Motley became interested in politics and by 1964, she had left the NAACP to become the first black woman to serve on the New York State Senate. In 1965, she became the first woman president of the Borough of Manhattan. She worked to decrease racial segregation in schools. In particular, she directed the campaign that resulted in James H. Meredith admission to the University of Mississippi. Later in 1966, President Johnson nominated Motley to the federal bench in Manhattan.

Over the next 40 years. Motley handled civil rights cases such as, when she made the decision in 1978 allowing a girl to change in the New York Yankees’ locker room. During this time she was a big success to Dr. Martin Luther King and all the other civil rights activists. Her and King fought together so that the nation would be equal among citizens and there would not be anymore segregation. In 1982, Motley became the first female chief judge. Her style could be deceptive, often challenging a witness to get away with one lie after another.

Judge Motley won cases that ended segregation in Memphis restaurants and white-only lunch counters in Birmingham, Alabama. Judge Constance Baker Motley was a tall, gracious and stately woman whose main goal was sometimes elusive: dignity for all people. Her personal approach was also dignified. As a black woman practicing law in the South, she endured gawking and more than a few physical threats. But through those trials and tribulations, she still remained positive and influenced others to do the same.

Constance Baker Motley was a very famous person to remember. She did a lot of things to help young individuals. This lady changed society because she was the first to serve in high ranking categories, which gave the African American race a chance to follow in her footsteps or even go beyond that. Constance Baker Motley died of congestive heart failure on September 28, 2005, at the age of eighty-four years old. Although she had assumed senior status as a judge in 1986, handling a reduce caseload, she continued to work until her death.

She was survived by her husband, Joel Wilson Motley, whom she married in 1949, and she had one son Joel Motley and several siblings. Constance Baker Motley played a vital role in today’s society because there are many people that will not be active in civil rights and the well-being of themselves and others. She will always be remembered of as one of the greatest women of lifetime history because she was positively influenced, which made her work be positive. This is a true role-model for people all across America to want to do something similar to what this woman did for the African American race.