Motley, Constance Baker, 1921-2005

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Judge; Lawyer; Civil rights advocate; Social reformer; State senator.

From the description of Papers 1948-1988. (Smith College). WorldCat record id: 46451836

Judge; interviewee married Joel Motley.

From the description of Reminiscences of Constance Baker Motley : oral history, 1978. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 309741689

Constance Baker Motley, circa 1963

Constance Juanita Baker was born on September 14th, 1921 in New Haven, Connecticut. She was the ninth of twelve children of Rachel Huggins and Willoughby Alva Baker, both emigrants from Nevis, British West Indies. Her childhood neighborhood, although ethnically diverse (comprised of West Indian, Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Polish families) was relatively free from racial rancor. Rachel Baker was a founder of the New Haven NAACP and Motley was exposed to African American history, especially the writings of W.E.B. DuBois, in her Sunday School. While in high school, Motley became president of the New Haven Youth Council and was secretary of the New Haven Adult Community Council. In 1939, she graduated with honors from Hillhouse High School. Though she had already formed a desire to practice law, Motley lacked the means to attend college, and instead went to work for the National Youth Administration. She also continued her involvement in community activities and it was through this work that she encountered local businessman and philanthropist Clarence Blakeslee, who, after hearing Motley speak at a New Haven community center, offered to pay for her education. She spent a year at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, then transferred to New York University in 1942, earning her A.B. in economics from its Washington Square College in 1943. In February 1944 she began her legal studies at Columbia Law School. She graduated in 1946, the same year she married Joel Wilson Motley, Jr., a real estate and insurance broker. Their son, Joel Motley III, was born in 1952.

In 1945 Constance Motley took a job as law clerk to Thurgood Marshall, chief counsel of the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDEF), and accompanied Marshall to court for most of his cases. After earning her law degree, Motley continued to work for the LDEF. In 1950 she was named assistant counsel and in 1961 she became associate counsel when Jack Greenberg succeeded Thurgood Marshall as head of the LDEF. As counsel Motley was involved in almost every important civil rights case of the era. She worked on litigation for the 1954 school desegregation case, Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas and subsequently fought for and won several other successful public school and university desegregation cases, including James Meredith's entry into the University of Mississippi in 1962. The LDEF also represented Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers in civil rights campaigns for desegregation of public transportation and accommodations throughout the South from 1961 to 1963. Motley brought many of these civil rights cases to higher courts. Between 1961 and 1964, she argued ten civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning nine. [For a complete list and summaries of Motley's NAACP cases see the Columbia University project database, described in the Scope and Contents note]. In his book, Crusaders in the Courts (1994), Jack Greenberg said of Motley's work with the NAACP: "[She] was a dogged opponent of Southern segregationists, who found her tougher than Grant at Vicksburg. She dug in to a position and wouldn't let go in the face of all kinds of threats, evasion, obfuscation, and delay."

In the late 1950s Motley had begun to be active in New York State politics. She served as a member of the New York State Advisory Council on Employment and Unemployment Insurance from 1958 to 1964, and in February 1964, she left the NAACP, having won a special election to the New York State Senate, becoming the first African American woman to serve in that body. As State Senator for the 21st Congressional District in Manhattan (roughly from 96th street on the upper west side to 161st street in Harlem), Motley launched a campaign during her first seven weeks in office to extend civil rights legislation in employment, education, and housing. She was re-elected to the Senate in November 1964 and served until February 1965, when New York City Council elected her the first woman to serve as President of the Borough of Manhattan. She was re-elected in the city-wide elections of November 1965 for a full four-year term and was the first candidate for the Manhattan Presidency to win the endorsement of the Republican, Democratic, and Liberal Parties. As Borough President, Motley drew up a seven-point program for the revitalization of Harlem and East Harlem, and won a pioneering fight for $700,000 to plan renewal projects for those and other underprivileged areas of the city. The plan included a design to decrease racial segregation in the public schools serving the housing projects.

In January 1966 Motley was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson for a judgeship in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York--the nation's largest federal court covering Manhattan, the Bronx, and six New York counties. Over tremendous opposition from southern senators (led by Senator James Eastland of Mississippi) and other federal judges, Motley was confirmed in August 1966, becoming the first woman to occupy that post, and the first African American woman ever named to the federal bench. Judge Motley continued to be a strong supporter of civil rights for minorities and the poor, as well as for women's rights. Among her many controversial decisions was the infamous "locker room case," Ludtke v. Kuhn (1978), in which she ruled that a woman reporter be admitted to the New York Yankees' locker room. In another highly publicized case Judge Motley admonished the New York City police for not providing Vietnam war protesters with adequate protection against violence in the streets ( Belknap et al v. Leary, 1970). [These and other notable cases presided over by Judge Motley are summarized in the Columbia University project which is described in the Scope and Content note below.] In 1982, Judge Motley was appointed Chief Judge of the Southern District of New York and held senior status since 1986. Constance Baker Motley died in New York City in September 2005.

For additional biographical information, see Equal Justice-Under Law: An Autobiography by Constance Baker Motley (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998).

From the guide to the Constance Baker Motley Papers MS 110., 1948-1988, (Sophia Smith Collection)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Louchheim, Katie, 1903-. Katie Louchheim papers, 1906-1991 (bulk 1942-1968). Library of Congress
referencedIn Kross, Anna M. (Anna Moscowitz), 1891-1979. Papers, 1905-1974. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Constance Baker Motley Papers MS 110., 1948-1988 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Jones, J. Raymond (John Raymond), 1899-1991. J. Raymond Jones collection, 1962-1991. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Derrick A. Bell, Jr. Papers, 1950-2006 New York University. Archives.
referencedIn Judicial Council of the National Bar Association (1970- ). Records. 1970-1977. Tulane University, Amistad Research Center
creatorOf Motley, Constance Baker, 1921-2005,. Oral history interview with Constance Baker Motley, 2002 Oct. University of Mississippi
creatorOf Motley, Constance Baker, 1921-2005. The reminiscences of Judge Constance Baker Motley. Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
referencedIn University of Arkansas. Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies. Symposium 1987. Tulane University, Amistad Research Center
referencedIn Elwood, William A. William A. Elwood Civil Rights Lawyers Project collection [manuscript], 1984-1989. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn M. Moran Weston Papers, 1824-1994 Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
creatorOf Motley, Constance Baker. Lecture, 1963. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Papers, ca. 1967 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
referencedIn Charles Abrams papers, 1923-1970. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
referencedIn Weston, M. Moran, 1910-. Papers, 1824-1994. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf Constance Baker Motley Papers MS 110., 1948-1988 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Commencement 1968, photographs. Hobart & William Smith Colleges, Warren Hunting Smith Library
creatorOf Motley, Constance Baker, 1921-2005. Papers 1948-1988. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Elwood, William A. Papers of William A. Elwood, 1984-1989. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Motley, Constance Baker, 1921-. Reminiscences of Constance Baker Motley : oral history, 1978. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Cannon, George Dows, 1902-1986. George D. Cannon papers, 1932-1982. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Horne, Frank Smith, 1899-1974. Papers. 1927-74. Tulane University, Amistad Research Center
creatorOf National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Audio materials, 1956-1977 [sound recording]. Library of Congress
referencedIn Williams, Osgood, 1913-. Osgood Williams oral history interview, 1988 June 2. Georgia State University
referencedIn Weaver, Robert C. (Robert Clifton), 1907-1997. Robert Clifton Weaver papers, 1869-1970, 1923-1970 (bulk). Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Robert C. Weaver papers, 1869-1970, 1923-1970 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn Lamson, Peggy. Papers, ca. 1967. Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
referencedIn Abrams, Charles, 1902-1970. Charles Abrams papers, 1923-1970. Cornell University Library
referencedIn United Church Board for Homeland Ministries. Race Relations Dept (1943-1970). Archives. 1943-1970. Tulane University, Amistad Research Center
referencedIn Sage Colleges Archives. Honorary degree recipient for 1997, Constance Baker Motley. The Sage Colleges Libraries
referencedIn Katie Louchheim Papers, 1906-1991, (bulk 1942-1968) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Anna Moskowitz Kross Papers MS 87., 1905-1974 Sophia Smith Collection
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith Abrams, Charles, 1902-1970. person
correspondedWith Abzug, Bella S., 1920- person
correspondedWith Abzug, Bella S., 1920-1998 person
correspondedWith Astor, Brooke person
correspondedWith Astor, Brooke person
associatedWith Bell, Derrick A. person
associatedWith Cannon, George Dows, 1902-1986. person
associatedWith Charles Abrams 1902-1970. person
correspondedWith Chisholm, Shirley, 1924- person
correspondedWith Chisholm, Shirley, 1924-2005. person
associatedWith Columbia University. Regional Oral History Office. corporateBody
associatedWith Elwood, William A. person
associatedWith Gellhorn, Kitty, person
associatedWith Gellhorn, Kitty Minus. person
associatedWith Greenberg, Jack, 1924- person
associatedWith Horne, Frank Smith, 1899-1974. person
associatedWith Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973 person
associatedWith Jones, J. Raymond (John Raymond), 1899-1991. person
associatedWith Judicial Council of the National Bar Association (1970- ) corporateBody
correspondedWith Kennedy, Florynce, 1916- person
correspondedWith Kennedy, Florynce, 1916-2000 person
correspondedWith Kenyon, Dorothy, 1888-1972 person
associatedWith King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968 person
correspondedWith Kross, Anna Moscowitz, 1891-1979 person
associatedWith Kunstler, William, 1919- person
associatedWith Lamson, Peggy. person
associatedWith Lindsay, John V. (John Vliet) person
associatedWith Louchheim, Katie, 1903- person
associatedWith Marshall, Thurgood, 1908-1993 person
correspondedWith McGovern, George S. (George Stanley), 1922- person
correspondedWith McKissick, Floyd B. (Floyd Baxter), 1922- person
associatedWith Meredith, James person
associatedWith Meredith, James. person
associatedWith Motley, Constance Baker, 1921-2005 person
associatedWith NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. corporateBody
associatedWith Peggy Lamson person
associatedWith Powell, Adam Clayton, 1908-1972. person
correspondedWith Randolph, A. Philip (Asa Philip), 1889- person
associatedWith Randolph, A. Philip (Asa Philip), 1889- person
associatedWith Southern Christian Leadership Conference. corporateBody
associatedWith United Church Board for Homeland Ministries. Race Relations Dept (1943-1970) corporateBody
associatedWith University of Arkansas. Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Mississippi corporateBody
associatedWith University of Mississippi. William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. corporateBody
associatedWith Wagner, Robert F. (Robert Ferdinand), 1910- person
associatedWith Weaver, Robert C. (Robert Clifton), 1907-1997. person
associatedWith Weston, M. Moran, 1910- person
associatedWith Williams, Osgood, 1913- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York (N.Y.)
New York (N.Y.)
New York (N.Y.)
Mississippi--Oxford
New York (N.Y.)
United States
United States
Harlem (New York, N.Y.)
New York (State)--New York
New York (State)
Subject
Working class
Race discrimination
African American women judges--History--Sources
Social reformers--History--20th century
African Americans--Segregation
African Americans--Education
African American civil rights workers
Women--Political activity--History--20th century
African American judges--Interviews
Women judges--United States--History--Sources
School integration--History
Practice of law
African American women social reformers
African Americans--New York (N.Y.)--History--20th century--Sources
African Americans--History
African American women lawyers--History--Sources
African Americans--History--20th century
School integration--United States--History--Sources
Women--Political activity
African Americans--Civil rights cases--Sources
College integration--Interviews
Race discrimination--Law and legislation--United States--History--Sources
Race discrimination--Law and legislation--History
African American women--Political activity
Civil rights--History--Interviews
Judicial process
African American women--Political activity--Sources
Segregation--History
Community development, Urban
African American judges
African American women--Interviews
Women judges
Civil rights movements--History--20th century
African American women
Community development, Urban--New York (N.Y.)--History--20th century--Sources
Politics, Practical
Slaves--Emancipation
Civil rights movements--United States--History--20th century--Sources
African Americans--Civil rights
Occupation
Judges
Lawyers
Function

Person

Birth 1921-09-21

Death 2005-09-28

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