|The History of Wisconsin’s Black Lawyers 2019 Published by the State Bar of Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s Pioneering Black Lawyers
Above: Celia Jackson and Hon. Charles Clevert pause for a photo during the
event honoring 11 of Wisconsin's pioneering black lawyers.
By Shannon Green/State Bar of Wisconsin
March 4, 2020 – They were the trailblazers in Wisconsin who opened many paths into the legal profession for black lawyers.
‒ William T. Green, a one-time janitor at the State Capitol building, was the first Black graduate of U.W. Law School and the first Black lawyer to argue a case before
the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Howell v. Litt, an 1890s suit, led to the creation of the Wisconsin Civil Rights Act of 1895.
‒ Ambrose Benjamin Nutt, a World War I veteran as well as a lawyer, was the first president of the Milwaukee Urban League in 1919, and he spent his life fighting
‒ Mabel Watson Raimey was Wisconsin’s first Black woman lawyer, attending Marquette Law School and passing the bar in 1927 — one first among many in her
‒ In 1971, James E. Jones became the first Black faculty member at the U.W. Law School — teaching labor law and arbitration for nearly 30 years.
‒ Clarence Parrish, in 1981, was the first African-American to win a contested judicial race in Milwaukee County.
This newly published booklet, “The History of Wisconsin’s Black Lawyers 2019,” details the histories of 11 black Wisconsin attorneys from the late 1800s through
the 1960s and a brief history of Black legal organizations in Wisconsin. It also lists a roster of Wisconsin Black lawyers from 1888 to 2018.
The book is the culmination of research by members of the Wisconsin Association of African-American Lawyers (WAAL), and was celebrated at an event on Feb.
25, 2020, at the State Law Library in Madison, sponsored by the State Bar of Wisconsin, WAAL, the U.W. and Marquette law schools, the Wisconsin State Law
Library, and Husch Blackwell.
“It is with a profound sense of pride, honor, and love, that we have documented the stories and the names of the black lawyers of Wisconsin,” said Cudahy
attorney Celia Jackson, organizer and planning committee member.
Those Who Opened the Doors
Documenting the history and accomplishments of Black lawyers and Black lawyer organizations is vitally important, said former Justice Louis Butler, because
otherwise this rich history will be lost as those who lived it pass away.
“We’re talking about the people who came behind us, keeping that door open for us,” Justice Butler said. “We don’t want the young lawyers coming up to lose this
“If we don’t get this history down now, there’s nobody there who is going to remember the things that we’ve accomplished,” he said.
Jackson, who was a catalyst for the project, organizing the information as well as the contributors, said the idea began at a WAAL meeting three years ago.
The project began small, Jackson said, starting with drafting a more complete record of the organizational history of WAAL and its predecessors, the Wisconsin
Black Lawyers Association (WBLA) and the Wisconsin Association of Minority Attorneys (WAMA).
“Of course, when you have a number of great legal minds coming together,” ideas gather and grow, Jackson said. Researchers began looking as far back as the
late 1800s to find the history of as many Black lawyers in Wisconsin as they could.
The committee members turned to the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum in Milwaukee, family members and descendants of these early lawyers, the
works of attorney and Black legal historian J. Clay Smith Jr., and the records of the U.W. and Marquette law schools, among other sources.
In doing the research, “we became more acquainted with the journeys, struggles, and
triumphs of the attorneys who came before us and whose shoulders we stand on,”
Jackson said the committee is seeking more stories of the Wisconsin’s Black lawyers
who have contributed to Wisconsin’s legal community in ways as yet unknown.
“There are many unsung heroes in this world,” Jackson said. “We urge you to embrace
this history, and seek ways to enhance it.”
Such history is vital for all State Bar members to know, said State Bar President Jill
Kastner. It helps us to know about those who came before us, and to help us
understand that they didn’t have a road laid out for them.
“They blazed that trail,” Kastner said. “We who see barriers today — especially leaders
in the legal community — have an obligation to honor those who have removed barriers
in the past, and to look for the barriers still there and dismantle them.”
The booklet is archived on WisBar.org, along with other legal history resources,
including the history of Wisconsin’s First 150 Women. Read more about pioneering
black lawyers in an article by Celia Jackson published in the May 2019 issue of
Wisconsin Lawyer™ magazine.
|Above: Lloyd Barbee is one of 11 black lawyers whose history is now
documented in the book. This poster, part of a display at the State Law Library in
Madison, also shows his signature in the book of the Attorney's Roll, a final step
in becoming a lawyer in Wisconsin.