Rebels in Law

Voices in History of Black Women Lawyers
J. Clay Smith, Jr., Editor
The reflections on their lives in law of pioneer black women lawyers


Black women lawyers are not new to the practice of law or to leadership in the fight for justice and quality. Black women formally entered the practice of American law in 1872, the year that Charlotte E. Ray became the first black woman to graduate from an American law school. Rebels in Law introduces some of these women and through their own writing tells a compelling story about the little-known involvement of black women in law and politics. Beginning with a short essay written in 1897, the writing collected by J. Clay Smith, Jr., tells us how black women came to the practice of law, the challenges they faced as women and as blacks in making a place for themselves in the legal profession, their fight to become legal educators, and their efforts to encourage other black women and black men to come to the practice of law.

The essays demonstrate the involvement of black women lawyers in important public issues of our time and show them addressing the sensitive subjects of race, equality, justice and freedom. Drawing together many writings that have never been published or have been published in obscure journals or newspapers, Rebels in Law is a groundbreaking study. In addition, it offers historical background information on each writer and on the history of black women lawyers. Providing an opportunity to study the origins of black women as professionals, community leaders, wives, mothers, and feminists, it will be of interest to scholars in the fields of law, history, political science, sociology, black studies and women's studies.

J. Clay Smith, Jr., is Professor of Law, Howard University Law School. He was formerly a member of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Dean of Howard University Law School, and President of the Washington Bar Association. He is the author of Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944 and numerous articles.

Praise / Awards

  • "Rebels in Law is a unique slice of history, just as riveting and certainly more worthwhile than the latest offering from John Grisham or the most recent best-selling legal thriller. J. Clay Smith Jr. has done a fine job."
    —Constance Johnson, Black Issues Book Review, April 1999

  • ". . . the collection as a whole is riveting because it traces the transition of black women from being the objects of the law to actors in the law who have altered its practice and theory."

  • ". . . illustrates the double prejudice of race and gender African American women have faced, and continue to face, in the legal profession and the courts."
    —Neil A. Wynn, University of Glamorgan , Ethnic and Racial Studies, May 2001

  • ". . . give[s] the reader rare insight into the thoughts and visions of these distinctive lawyers whose voices too long have been overlooked."
    —Amy S. Gellins, Georgia Bar Journal, April 1999

  • ". . . a valuable work. It makes for compelling reading and will deepen our understanding of the connections between past and present struggles for professional inclusion and recognition and show us how such struggles are complicated by race and gender constructions. It will be enormously useful to students of African-American history, black women's history, women's' studies, the professions, and American social history."
    —Darlene Clark Hine, Michigan State University, Journal of Southern History, November 2000

  • ". . . Smith has done a masterful job of chronicling leading black women lawyers from the late 1890s to the present. . . . As a black woman attorney, I found the book very impressive. . . . It is important that Rebels in Law speaks to all Americans about individual achievement and determination against barriers. We learn that through the courageous efforts black women attorneys have made to ensure equal justice and equality under the law for all persons, our society has become a better place."
    New York Law Journal

  • ". . . an unbelievably valuable addition to the paucity of information available about the contributions of black women lawyers to the profession. . . . [P]eople of color of both sixes will relate to these stories, including as they do many of the issues faced on a daily basis as they seek to become successful, effective participants in the legal profession. . . . It] should be required reading for all women law students as well as young women in high school and college who have legal aspirations. All members of the learned profession of law, regardless of race or gender will benefit from its reading. . . ."
    —Sandra Hicks Cox, Women Lawyers Journal, Summer 1999

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 360pp.
  • 26 B&W photographs in 14 page galley.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2000
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08646-7

Add to Cart
  • $28.95 U.S.