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Civil Rts Lawyer Constance Motley Baker Dies at 84

HeadlineSep 29, 2005

And finally, the first African American woman to serve as a federal judge has passed away. Famed civil rights lawyer Constance Baker Motley died Wednesday in New York. She was 84. As a young lawyer, Motley represented Martin Luther King Jr. After a brief political career, she began a distinguished four-decade span as a judge in 1966, becoming the first black woman appointed to the federal bench. Motley earned her degree in economics in 1943 from New York University, and three years later, she obtained her law degree from Columbia Law School. In 1945, she became a law clerk to Thurgood Marshall, who was then chief counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In the late 1950s, Motley took an interest in politics and by 1964 had left the NAACP and become the first black woman to serve in the New York State Senate. In 1965, she became the first woman to serve as president of the borough of Manhattan, where she worked to promote integration in public schools. In her career, she worked on some of the nation’s most famous civil rights cases, including preparing the draft complaint in 1950 for what would become Brown v. Board of Education. From 1961 to 1964, Motley won nine of 10 civil rights cases she argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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