Black History Information: The National Bar Association

I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.  --Rosa Parks


The National Bar Association:

The National Bar Association was established on 1 August 1925 in Des Moines, Iowa. On that day, George H. Woodson and eleven other African-American lawyers, including one woman, met to (as stated in the association’s charter) “advance the science of jurisprudence, uphold the honor of the legal profession, promote social intercourse among the members of the bar, and protect the civil and political rights of all citizens of the several states of the United States.” Today, the National Bar Association represents the interests of minority lawyers and the larger minority community through its programs and resolutions. Given the widespread discrimination against minority groups throughout American history, the National Bar Association devotes much attention to protecting constitutional rights and civil liberties.

Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, America’s lawyers began organizing bar associations for the purpose of increasing professional standards and improving the public’s perception of attorneys. Moreover, business corporations increasingly sought out professionals with the competence to provide legal counsel in an industrializing society. Founded in 1878, the American Bar Association was the country’s primary organization for legal professionals, but in 1912 the association officially began excluding black lawyers when it became known that the group had unwittingly admitted three black members.

Denied membership in mainstream bar associations, black lawyers decided to form an organization dedicated to protecting minority rights and improving race relations within the legal profession: thus they formed the National Bar Association. Many of the association’s objectives were similar to those of the American Bar Association. By restating these goals in their charter, the National Bar Association’s lawyers drew attention to the American Bar Association’s failure, as a group, to promote equality within the legal profession and society.

The National Bar Association has argued that greater diversity on the federal bench is needed to maintain the public’s faith in the judiciary’s impartiality, reasoning that a racially segregated bench cannot fully convince the oppressed that all people are treated equally before the law. Under the leadership of Elmer C. Jackson, in 1960 the association persuaded both Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy and Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon to pledge to nominate an African-American lawyer to the United States district courts. After winning the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy promptly nominated Joseph Dolan, an African-American attorney, as United States deputy assistant attorney general and James B. Parsons as the first African-American U.S. district judge within the continental United States.

Since the 1960s, the National Bar Association has continued to promote the advancement of civil rights and civil liberties through the courts by filing amicus curiae briefs in cases where the interests of minorities and oppressed people are at stake. These briefs allow the association to articulate the concerns of Americans whose opinions the courts may not otherwise hear. As a national organization, the association has local affiliates in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Most of these affiliates conduct pro bono legal services and other volunteer work in communities neglected by mainstream lawyers.

Read more: National Bar Association - Blacks in the Law: Philadelphia and the Nation