Viewing page 272 of 440


During the first quarter of the twentieth century, twelve Black Americans, with a mutual interest in the dedication to justice and civil rights of all, help structure the struggle of the Black race in America. The National Bar Association (NBA), formally organized in Des Moines, Iowa on August 1, 1925, was conceived by such legal poineers as George H. Woodson, S. Joe Brown, Gertrude E. Rush, James B. Morris, Charles P. Howard, Sr., Wendell E. Green, C. Francis Stradford, Jesse N. Baker, William H. Haynes, George C. Adams, Charles H. Calloway, and L. Amasa Knox.

The purpose of the National Bar Association is "… to 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.

Legions of Black lawyers affiliated with the NBA ushered the rule of law through the turbulent 1920's and 1930's and remain in the vanguard working for justice in the 1980's.

In 1919, R.D. Evans, who later became an NBA member, tried the first case in Waco, Texas to prevent the Democratic Party from forbidding "colored people" to vote in the primaries. 

From the 1920's through the 1950's, Black lawyers such as Judge James A. Cobb, T. Gillis Nutter, and Ashbie Hawkins fought the famous segregation case of Louisville and the Covenants cases of the District of Columbia. Early NBA pioneers S. D. McGill, R.P. Crawford, and J. L. Lewis fought to have sentences of execution stayed in the Florida case popularly referred to as the "Four Pompano Boys." Wherever there was a fight to wage in defense of the rights of Blacks and poor people, the NBA was present.

The NBA was way ahead of the "War on Poverty" programs of the 1960's, which included funding legal clinics for the poor. Members of the National Bar Association were leaders of the [[italics]] pro bono [[/italics]] movement at a time when they could least afford to provide free legal services and before poverty law became profitable. Even though in 1940 the number of Black lawyers barely exceeded 1,000 nationwide, the NBA attempted to establish "free legal clinics in all cities with a "colored" population of 5,000 or more."

The NBA was only twenty-five years old when the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools in its landmark decision, [[italics]] Brown v. Board of Education [[/italics]]. The decision was the culmination of a long struggle by Black lawyers, several of whom were prominent NBA members. Thurgood Marshall, the first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and U.S. District Court Judge Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman federal judge, are two of the outstanding jurists who helped to make [[italics]] Brown v. Board of Education [[/italics]] the pivotal case in American civil rights history.

Today, the NBA Board of Governors formulates the Association's policies. The Board consists of the officers: president, president-elect, four vice presidents, secretary, and treasurer; eleven at-large representatives; ten regional directors; five former NBA presidents; and one representative from each of the 21 special interest sections which address problems, needs, and goals of minority lawyers. Between the regular meetings of the Board of Governors, the Executive Committee, which is composed of the NBA officers and seven board members, functions on behalf of the Board. From the national headquarters in Washington, D. C., an executive director acts as chief administrator and supervises the daily operations of the Association. Communication among members, staff, and officers is facilitated by the official organ of the Association, the [[italics]] National Bar Bulletin [[/italics]], which succeeded the [[italics]] National Bar Journal [[/italics]].

The year 1978-79 was termed the "Year of Affirmative Action" by the NBA Board of Governors. In the wake of [[italics]] Bakke v. Regents [[/italics]], the organization chose to address the pressing issues of the day laid bare by this momentous decision. Though differences in strategies and tactics have emerged throughout the years, the 1978-79 "Year of Affirmative Action" demonstrates the continuous attention to the first principles set forth by the founders of the NBA.

The NBA of 1978-79 evolved to a point of international recognition for its efforts on behalf of the disenfranchised and politically oppressed peoples of the world. It increased to a network of 7,000 attorneys, law students and members of the judiciary across the United States and the Virgin Islands. At that time, there were thirty-eight (38) affiliate chapters nationally.

The NBA has concerned itself with a wide range of projects, including, but not limited to:

• issuing a comprehensive report to the U. S. Senate, The United Nations Africa Group, and the U.N. Anti-Apartheid Committee on the illegality of the Zimbabwe/Rhodesian Constitution and the elections;

• receiving unanimous acceptance by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) of the United Nations, and worldwide acclaim for the aforementioned position paper on the Zimbabwe/Rhodesian Constitution;

• monitoring the incidence and affect of attacks on affirmative action programs and the nation's colleges and universities, and educating students on the need for responsive activities;

• developing with U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell and the White House, a judicial selection process designed to insure meaningful gains for minority judges under the Omnibus Judgeship Act;

• designing a law firm development project to obtain retainers for minority attorneys from key corporations on a national basis;

• monitoring legislation affecting minority interests;

• intervening in the case of [[italics]] Driscoll v. Regents of the University of California [[/italics]], which sought to invalidate the University's financial aid program;

• conducting a research project on public hearings regarding minority employment in the criminal justice system to determine the extent to which minorities are hired and promoted in the policy-making echelon of the criminal justice system;

• engaging in loan fund program sponsored by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to assist lawyers in litigating discrimination grievances under Title VII;

• conducting numerous continuing legal education seminars for commercial lawyers and strategic cities throughout the U. S. on topics concerning the procurement of federal contracts and developing sources of venture capital in the private sector under a grant from the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA);

• educating special interest groups regarding mechanisms for organization to address the attacks on the lack of compliance with affirmative action programs and legislation;

• establishing the Lawyer Referral and Information Center, a nationwide referral service for commercial lawyers;

• challenging the right of the Ku Klux Klan to exist for the sole purpose of preaching and acting out violence against a race of people — Black Americans;

• supporting the right of Haitian refugees to remain in the United States, especially in view of the U.S. open acceptance of Cuban refugees;

• rejecting the unjust continual denial of human rights of Black South Africans and the adherence to the hollow Sullivan Principles as a supposed step in writing this historic wrong;

• supporting the full participation of minority businesses in the U.S. economy through government sponsored minority set asides, and passage and enforcement of appropriate legislation such as P.L. 95-507; and

• organizing support for the passage of the American Bar Association Standard 212 which would require that ABA accredited law schools institute voluntary affirmative action admission programs.

Other recent NBA activities cover: holding the first national Black-on Black Crime Conference, which brought together criminal justice experts, police, community activists, lawyers, and judges to map out a national plan of action; preparing testimony and participating in Senate Judiciary Hearings involving thirty-two (32) minority nominees for the Federal court system;

Please note that the language and terminology used in this collection reflects the context and culture of the time of its creation, and may include culturally sensitive information. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution, but is available in its original form to facilitate research. For questions or comments regarding sensitive content, access, and use related to this collection, please contact