Thursday, September 29, 2005

She changed all our lives

Constance Baker Motley, a civil rights lawyer who fought nearly every important civil rights case for two decades, winning the desegregation of schools, buses and lunch counters, and then became the first black woman to serve as a federal judge, died Wednesday in Manhattan. She was 84.

In 1950, when she was just four years out of law school, she prepared the draft complaint for what would become Brown v. Board of Education. As we all know, the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in her favor in 1954 in a decision credited with toppling public school segregation in America.

She personally argued the 1960 case that resulted in the enrollment of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi (and the desegregation of many state university systems, including Florida’s) and the 1957 case in Little Rock, Arkansas, that led President Eisenhower to call in federal troops to protect nine black students at Central High. Also in the early 1960s, she successfully argued for 1,000 school children to be reinstated in Birmingham, Alabama, after the local school board expelled them for demonstrating. She represented “Freedom Riders'” who rode buses to test the Supreme Court’s 1960 ruling prohibiting segregation in interstate transportation.

Read the Associated Press obituary here.

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