A NOTE FROM THE PRESIDENT: This month, I am pleased to have the voice of BAMSL Member Cardina Johnson on the President’s page. Cardina has done an outstanding job of leading the Minorities in the Legal Profession (MILP) Section as well as co-chairing our annual Motion for Kids holiday party for a number of years. I know you will enjoy her excellent article about the pursuit of voting rights for Black women as we celebrate diversity and inclusion in the legal profession this month.
In reflecting on Black History Month, I marvel at the Black woman’s pursuit of voting rights over the past two centuries. About 100 years before women achieved the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, Black women had been fighting for voting rights and equality for all. The pursuit continued after the passage of the 19thAmendment, as discrimination still prevented women of color from voting by the masses thereafter.
When slavery was thriving in the U.S., Black women were boldly seeking equality and justice in voting. For instance, on Sept. 21, 1832, Maria W. Miller Stewart dared to challenge the status quo of the era by advocating in her “Lecture Delivered at the Franklin Hall” speech, at a time when it was taboo for women to speak publicly, and for Blacks to speak at all:
“[L]ook at many of the most worthy and interesting of us doomed to spend our lives in gentlemen’s kitchens. Look at our young men, smart, active and energetic, with souls filled with ambitious fire; if they look forward, alas! what are their prospects? …They can be nothing but the humblest laborers, on account of their dark complexions; …Have you prayed the Legislature for mercy’s sake to grant you all the rights and privileges of free citizens, that your daughters may raise to that degree of respectability which true merit deserves, and your sons above the servile situations which most of them fill?”
I am struck by not only the forward thinking that she and women like her were gifted with, but I am also struck by their tenacity and sheer bravery. I think of Ms. Steward and many Black women who both preceded and followed her, such as Sojourner Truth, Sarah Remond, Mary Church Terrell, Carrie W. Clifford, and Stacey Abrams, who have a legacy of fearlessly standing for what they believe is just in the face of strong opposition.
When I vote, I often think of Fannie Lou Hamer, a Black activist arrested many times for her voter registration efforts. At a time when Jim Crow laws were being heavily enforced, Ms. Hamer taught Black Mississippians how to read and write so they could pass discriminatory voter tests designed to prevent Black Americans from voting. Following a voter registration effort, she was severely beaten by police, suffering life-long, debilitating injuries to her eyes, legs, and kidneys. Despite all of this, she continued organizing and advocating for voter rights until she died.
Female Black activists paved the way so a woman like Kamala Harris can not only hold the second most powerful position in the U.S. government, but also have the ability to cast the most powerful votes in American history, which she undoubtedly will cast as the tiebreaker for the U.S. Senate. Harris’ position represents an achievement that transcends partisan allegiance and racial divide. Her achievement honors the lives, work and deaths of Black women who forged a way and continue to press on for equality in voting. For this, the legal community is encouraged to celebrate their contributions to the principle of justice for all.
In the spirit of celebration this month, the BAMSL Minorities in the Legal Profession (MILP) Committee together with the LGBTQ+ Committee will host the annual Legal Pioneers installation ceremony virtually to recognize our 2020 honorees who have exemplified a commitment to diversity and service within the legal community.
The 2020 Legal Pioneers honorees, whose induction was delayed due to the pandemic, are Judge Lawrence E. Mooney (Ret.), the first known openly gay judge to serve on the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals, and Judge Kathy A. Surratt-States, the first Black Chief Judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of Missouri.
In conjunction with the award ceremony, both judges also will be panelists for a lively discussion approved for one hour of MCLE credit on cultural competency. The event will be held 4:30-6 p.m. on Wed., Feb. 24. Please visit www.bamsl.org/events for more details.