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Constance Baker Motley

Constance Baker Motley, a law graduate of Columbia University was a life-long Civil Rights activist, fighting many of the nation’s landmark segregation cases from 1945-64. She wrote the original complaint in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, served as chief counsel for James Meredith in his fight to enter the University of Mississippi and led the defense for “Freedom Fighters” who rode interstate buses to test the success of desegregation laws.

While still a graduate student, Motley joined the staff of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. From October 1961 to December 1964, she became the first black woman to contend before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing 10 cases and winning nine. During the following years, Motley was the first black woman to be elected into the New York State Senate and to be appointed Manhattan Borough president. Against the protests of conservative senators, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Motley the first black female Federal Court Judge in 1966. She served as the federal judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, including a term as chief judge, until her death in 2005.

Motley received many honorary degrees and more than 50 awards, including the Frederick Douglass Award from the New York Urban League and the Springarn Medal from the NAACP. In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal in recognition of her achievements and service to the nation. She died in 2005.