Constance Baker Motley – Black History

The pathbreaking lawyer and “Civil Rights Queen” was the first Black woman to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court

Tomiko Brown-Nagin

In the spring of 1963, Constance Baker Motley watched the protests in Birmingham, Alabama, with hope—and concern. The nation’s most segregated city, Birmingham had become the center of the struggle for Black equality. Previous demonstrations there led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom she considered “an American hero,” had produced “no results,” Motley wrote in her memoir. Consequently, King and other leaders began planning more dramatic action, including the Children’s Crusade. “Civil disobedience was not working; massive resistance was,” she wrote. Indeed, the zeal of the protesters in April and May of that year led to a climactic legal battle. Motley’s heroic role in it would help lay the groundwork for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as public outrage over the violent white response to peaceful protests spurred Congress to action.