On Oct. 26, history was made in this city when the Tucker Law Group (TLG), with prominent attorneys Joe Tucker and Carl Singley at the helm, sponsored a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) course entitled “Standing on the Shoulders: The Black Philadelphia Lawyer.”
Co-sponsored by the Barristers’ Association and the National Bar Association- Women Lawyers Division, it was a tribute to the amazing accomplishments of some of the greatest attorneys and judges in American history- and they just happened to be Black men and women in Philadelphia.
Before I point out some of the highlights of this program, allow me to explain what a CLE course is. In order for lawyers to maintain their license and to display updated legal knowledge and/or legal training in various subjects, Pennsylvania (just as most other jurisdictions) requires them to attend officially-sanctioned courses in person or to watch them via the internet.
During this truly historic and one-of-a-kind full day program, which attracted more than 150 attendees and was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the organizers presented the following sessions with preeminent lawyers and judges, who just happen to be Black:
“History of Black Lawyers in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania”
Part 1 featured moderator Bob Archie and panelists Wadud Ahmad, Nolan Atkinson, William H. Brown III, Ronald Harper, Kevin Mincey, and Aaron Porter.
Part 2 featured moderator Kenneth Murphy and panelists Judge Jaqueline Allen, Danielle Banks, Marcel Pratt, and Denise Smyler.
The lunchtime guest speaker was Sozi Pedro Tulante, an African-born political refugee who is now an award-winning lawyer and Ivy League professor.
“How Race Matters in the Adversary Process”
It featured moderator Bacardi Jackson and panelists Kristen Gibbons Feden, Richard Harris, Judge Darnell Jones, Jill Huntley Taylor, and Joe Tucker.
“Black Lawyers and the Struggle for Dignity and Equality”
It featured moderator Alycia Horn and panelists yours truly Michael Coard, Tom Fitzpatrick, Charisse Lillie, Amber Racine, Leigh Skipper, and David Williams (who, I must note, did an exceptionally impressive job enlightening the audience about Cecil B. Moore).
Although each of the moderators and panelists presented well-researched talks and/or posed culturally/legally profound questions, I’d like to share with you all what I presented regarding the unparalleled Raymond Pace Alexander and also what- due to my spending of too much time on the history of “legal” slavery as promoted by the U.S. Constitution- I unintentionally failed to present regarding Raymond Pace Alexander because of time constraints.
And for that, I apologize to the attendees, including and especially Dr. Rae Alexander-Minter, the esteemed daughter of the peerless Raymond Pace Alexander and the incomparable Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, a legal and economics giant in her own right.
I not only apologize to Dr. Alexander-Minter, I will now express remorse by showing the respect that Raymond Pace Alexander is due by listing ten important things you probably didn’t know but definitely should know about this civil rights legal and political colossus. And this information is provided in meticulous detail in two riveting and illuminating books, namely Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer by Kenneth W. Mack and Raymond Pace Alexander- A New Negro Lawyer Fights for Civil Rights in Philadelphia by David A. Cantor.
1. Raymond Pace Alexander was born in Philadelphia to parents who had been enslaved in Virginia.
2. As a youth, he worked as a fish unloader, newspaper seller, shoe shiner, and Metropolitan Opera House usher, an experience he said “opened a new world” for him and exposed him to “some of the culture which characterized... [his] later years.”
3. As the 1917 commencement speaker at Central High School, his courageous topic was “The Future of the American Negro.”
4. In 1920, he became the first Black graduate of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and then enrolled at Harvard Law School while not only working on a master’s degree in Political Science at Columbia University but also working as a railway porter.
5. In 1923 after graduating from Harvard Law School and passing the bar, he worked for a short time in a small law office before founding his own firm, one that focused on the needs of Black people.
6. In 1924,, he won an acquittal following his successful appeal of a capital murder conviction involving the death of a police officer by a Black woman, Louise Thomas. That was the first such victory in the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
7. In 1932, he led the legal and political charge against segregation in the Berwyn schools just outside Philadelphia in Easttown Township. He did it with the assistance of the NAACP and a progressive/socialist organization called the International Labor Defense Lawyers (which had represented the Scottsboro Boys and many others). As a result, he pressured Attorney General William Schnader, who was running for Governor in 1934, to agree to a settlement that allowed students to be admitted on a race-neutral basis.
8. As a member of City Council in 1953, he introduced a resolution for Black admission into Girard College. Afterward, Cecil B. Moore filed a lawsuit and thanks to Alexander’s foresight, along with Moore’s litigation, Girard College was desegregated in 1968. By the way, Raymond Pace Alexander also gave an impassioned and compelling closing argument in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court following a 1957 Orphans’ Court ruling regarding Girard College.
9. In January 1959, he was appointed as a Common Pleas Court judge and elected to that position in November of that year.
10. As a judge, he proudly wore his Blackness on his sleeve. He grew so weary of the unlawful and disproportionate “stop and frisk” and mass incarceration of Black boys that he created an alternate probation system for first-time offenders. He called it the Spiritual Rehabilitation program that is somewhat similar to today’s Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD) program, which places first-time nonviolent offenders on probation, followed by an expungement.
He was a visionary lawyer, judge, and City Councilman. But first and foremost, he was a scholarly civil rights warrior.
Before concluding, I must give a big shout-out to the deejay- I mean the two lawyers who were most instrumental in today’s wildly successful CLE program. Joe Tucker and Carl Singley included a soulfully motivating musical playlist during the short breaks between the sessions, consisting of “Inner City Blues” by Marvin Gaye, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by The Wardlaw Brothers, “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, “People Get Ready” by The Impressions, “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, “Four Women” by Nina Simone, “Talking About a Revolution” by Tracy Chapman, “Gun” by Gil-Scott-Heron (my favorite artist of all time), “We Shall Overcome” by Mahalia Jackson, and many more.
Friday was a powerful day for Black lawyers and Black judges of the past and the present, thanks to The Tucker Law Group, the Barristers’ Association, and the National Bar Association- Women Lawyers Division.