Macon Bolling Allen, the first black man licensed to practice law in the U.S.

Theodora Aidoo February 29, 2020
Macon Bolling Allen, the first licensed black lawyer in the U.S - Pic

There are notable African Americans who have inspired so many people and Face2face Africa is highlighting them as we mark Black History Month. One such notable figures is Macon Bolling Allen, the first black man licensed to practice law in the U.S.

Macon Bolling Allen was born a free man in 1816 in Indiana, Allen taught himself how to read and write and at the end of the day, he got his first job as a school teacher.

He would become one of those black attorneys who refused to be stopped by the color of their skin and the attitudes of society but pursued their education and careers.

As a lawyer, Thurgood Marshall is famous but was not the first. Way before him was Allen.

An empty courtroom.
Pic Credit: Karen Neoh / Flickr 

In the early part of the 1840s, Allen moved from Indiana to Portland, Maine where he changed his name to Macon Bolling Allen (born Allen Macon Bolling) and became friends with local anti-slavery leader General Samuel Fessenden, who at the time had begun a law practice.

Allen served under Fessenden as an apprentice/law clerk until in 1844 Fessenden introduced him to the Portland District court and said that he thought Allen should be able to practice as a lawyer.

He was refused on the grounds that he wasn’t a citizen. However, Maine law states that anyone “of good moral character” could be admitted to the bar. Allen then applied for admission by examination.

After passing the exam and earning his recommendation, he was declared a citizen of Maine and given his license to practice law on July 3, 1844, making him the first black man in the U.S. who was licensed to practice law.

Image result for Macon bolling Allen
Pic Credit: Cory Watson Attorneys/Twitter

At the time, getting hired in Maine was difficult as there were only a few black people who were willing or able to hire lawyers. And most people would disallow a black man to represent them in court.

Allen then moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1845 where he met his wife Hannah Allen and they had five sons together. Allen passed the Massachusetts state bar on May 5, 1845.

After his exams, Allen and Robert Morris Jr. opened the first Black law office in the United States. In 1848, he passed the exam to become Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County, Massachusetts.

Apart from being the first black man to obtain a license to practice law in the US, he is also thought to be the first black man to hold a judicial position.

After the Civil War, Allen again moved but this time to Charleston, South Carolina to open a new legal practice. He was appointed as a judge in the Inferior Court of Charleston in 1873.

The following year he was elected judge probate for Charleston County, South Carolina. Allen moved to Washington, D.C. after Reconstruction and there he worked as an attorney for the Land and Improvement Association.

Until his death at age 78, Allen continued to practice law.

Last Edited by:Victor Ativie Updated: March 4, 2020


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