Emmy Award Winning Multi-Media Journalist and Attorney Discusses Three Centuries of Unsung Black Female Leaders
Emmy Award winning civil rights attorney Gloria J. Browne-Marshall’s inspiration for her latest book derives from the leadership qualities of 21st century Black female leaders. They were often hidden in the shadows because the social norms of previous eras hindered their opportunities.
This is among the many insights Browne-Marshall offered the audience while being interviewed inside the Bar Center’s Great Hall Tuesday evening by Hank Greenberg, shareholder at Greenberg, Traurig and past president of the New York State Bar Association. The two discussed her latest work “She Took Justice – The Black Woman, Law, and Power – 1619 to 1969,” which comprises biographies that recount three centuries of courageous actions taken by Black women while overcoming racial prejudice and gender oppression.
“People think that Ketanji Brown Jackson or Michelle Obama just appeared out of nowhere, but they don’t know. There’s a legacy of black women doing just exactly what they’re doing, only they didn’t have the platforms of a Supreme Court or the White House, but they had all the other qualities. I wanted to show that this country did not create the Black woman, she was already created,” said Browne-Marshall during the hour-long session.
Her conversation with Greenberg covered individuals that included Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba (1583-1663), current day Angola, who negotiated a peace treaty with the Portuguese in 1622 that cut off the latter’s slave trade routes and created freedom for her people.
She also mentioned, among others, Charlotte Ray who became the first U.S. Black woman attorney after being admitted to the Washington, D.C., bar in 1872 and later was a women’s suffrage advocate, and Constance Baker Motley, the former U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York, who helped create the NAACP’s legal strategy challenging the segregation of Black children in public schools.
The event was co-sponsored by the New York State Bar Association, the Women In Law Section of NYSBA, the New York State Writers Institute, the Honors College, UAlbany’s 3+3 joint degree with Albany Law School and the Historical Society of the New York Courts.
Browne-Marshall also spoke about how the civil rights movement itself was prone to sexism and thus left the misguided impression that Black women worked only on its periphery.
“If you go back and look at the films, look at who’s protesting on Edmund Pettus Bridge and look at who’s falling to the ground. When you start to really analyze who’s in those films, you begin to see the role of the black woman. And that’s why I say that black women didn’t wait for somebody to liberate them. They liberated themselves.”
She espoused her view that lawyers today could follow in the footsteps of the civil rights predecessors and groundbreaking black women attorneys, who regularly made public presentations, by proactively informing citizens about the law.
Browne-Marshall added that attorneys livestreaming educational sessions and making their law review articles available to local libraries are a couple ways to give the public more knowledge about the law and inspire and educate young people.
“It’s already been shown that there are people willing to work hard and beat the odds. They may not have the best grades, but they may do more in the community than other people who do have the best grades, and people are throwing money at them all the time. There’s got to be a way in which we continue to invest in regular people with the idea that not everybody is going to be a genius. I’ll tell you I’m not a genius. But if we’re only going to invest in the best and the brightest, that’s a very small world.”
Browne-Marshall is the founder and director of The Law and Policy Group, Inc., a nonprofit organization which produces the biennial “Report on the Status of Black Women and Girls®”, the only ongoing national report on the state of Black females in America. She is a member of the National Press Club, Dramatist Guild, Mystery Writers of America, National Association of Black Journalists, and PEN American Center. She received the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Justice Award for her work with civil rights and women’s justice issues and was honored last month with a Mid Atlantic Emmy Award for her work as a host and writer of the animated series “Your Democracy.”
Please go HERE to view the entire interview.