Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005) was the first African American woman to serve as a federal judge.
She was appointed by President Lyndon B Johnson in 1966 to serve in the Southern District of New York, the largest and busiest federal court in the country.
Motley was born in New Haven, Connecticut on September 21, 1921. She earned a degree in economics from New York University. She earned her law degree at Columbia University. While studying at Columbia she joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She later became the organization’s Associate Counsel.
Motley worked on all the school segregation cases supported by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund including Brown v Board of Education. She was the only female attorney on the landmark case.
Constance Baker Motley worked with the NAACP for more than twenty years. She was the lead attorney in James Meredith’s successful fight to attend the University of Mississippi. Motley was very active in the Civil Rights Movement. She won nine of the civil rights cases she argued before the US Supreme and Court. She was a judicial hero to many.
Judge Motley later went into politics. In 1964 she became the first Black woman elected to the New York State Assembly.