above, left to right: Robert Morris, Butler Wilson, James H. Wolff, Bruce Robinson, Inez C. Fields, and Wayne A. Budd
In mid-19th century Massachusetts, black attorneys courageously established reputations as pioneering leaders in civil rights struggles, despite facing formidable public skepticism and condescension.
Significant progress in achieving equal participation at the Massachusetts bar has only come within the last quarter of the 20th century. The first African American was not chosen for partnership in any major Massachusetts law firm until 1978.
The increasing number of black attorneys signifies growing black participation in the legal system. In 1915, there were no more than two dozen African American attorneys working in Boston. In 2000, over 450 black attorneys, both men and women, were admitted to the Massachusetts bar, according to the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association. The Association was founded in 1973 to represent the interests of African American attorneys in the Commonwealth. It sponsors educational programs for its members and supports African American nominees for judicial appointment. It also advocates on behalf of the African American bar in public forums.
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In 1978, Harry T. Daniels was made a partner in the Boston law firm of Hale & Dorr, thus becoming the first African American partner of a major law firm in Massachusetts. Photograph by Richard W. Young. Courtesy Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, c. 1989