From the 2009 News Archive
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New Collections Highlight Female African American Lawyers

The University of Maryland School of Law’s Thurgood Marshall Law Library, a leading resource documenting the development of the African American legal community in Maryland and its role in shaping American law, has announced the release of two new collections. The "Lena Lee Collection" and the "Constance Baker Motley Collection." Both archival collections lend insight into the careers of two of the mid-20th Century’s most influential female African American lawyers.

The collections are part of the Law Library’s larger "African Americans in the Law Collection," a national leader in the digitization of original letters, photos, organizational records, and other original manuscripts reflecting the unique challenges and exceptional contributions of African American legal practitioners.

"The civil rights story has been told so well already that we try not to focus on that aspect as much as we seek to record the day-to-day transactional nature of the late 19th and 20th century African American practitioner," says Bill Sleeman, who coordinates special collection activities for the Library. "How was it that these men and women were able to build successful practices and careers in an environment that did not want them to succeed?"

The Lena Lee Collection
Lena Lee, a 1951 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law, was only the third woman to graduate from the Law School where she was a classmate and friend of civil rights leader Juanita Jackson Mitchell. Lee went on to become a successful practitioner, state legislator and local activist. During her political career she was a tireless supporter of legislation and programs to support women and minorities. Until Lee’s death at 100 her home was a required stop for any politician seeking to make his or her mark in Baltimore, a fact reflected in the many letters and telegrams seeking her advice or support in planning a political campaign.

The Constance Baker Motley Collection
Constance Baker Motley was the first African American woman elected to the Senate in New York. In 1966 she became, following her appointment by President Johnson, the first African American woman appointed to a federal court. Motley may be most famous though for her work as an attorney on behalf of the civil rights movement and the NAACP, where she was initially hired as a clerk to Thurgood Marshall. Motley was the author of the original complaint in the Brown v. Board of Education case and went on to win a number of important civil rights cases before the United States Supreme Court.

For access to the Lena Lee or Constance Baker Motley Collection, or anything else in the Law Library’s African Americans in the Law Collection, please contact Bill Sleeman, Assistant Director for Technical Services at 410-706-0783 or bsleeman@law.umaryland.edu.


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500 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-1786 PHONE: (410) 706-7214 FAX: (410) 706-4045 / TDD: (410) 706-7714

Copyright © 2014, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. All Rights Reserved