George Boyer Vashon: New York’s First African American Attorney

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.

George Boyer Vashon (1824-1878) was admitted to the New York Bar on January 11, 1848, thereafter practicing in Syracuse. He became New York’s first African American attorney, after having been rejected on the grounds of race by the Bar of his native Pennsylvania in 1847. He was admitted to the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1867.

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Chief Judge Janet DiFiore Announces the Lemmon Slave Case Exhibit Debut

During her biweekly video message, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore this week announced the debut of The Lemmon Case: 1852-1860 — A Prelude to the Civil War, a traveling panel exhibit intended to educate the public on the role of the New York courts in paving the way for the abolition of slavery, and the subsequent freeing of eight enslaved young women and children who sailed into New York harbor with their owners from Virginia. The exhibit began a 90-week tour to 45 courthouses around the state at the Westchester County Courthouse on November 1st.

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Eunice Hunton Carter

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.

Eunice Hunton Carter was the real-life heroine who inspired a character on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. She was only the second woman in the history of Smith College to receive a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in four years. She then went on to earn a law degree from Fordham School of Law and start her own practice.

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Fanfare for a Great Mentor: Remembering Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke

Eddie Roth was a law clerk to Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke from 1982-84. He and fellow law clerk Jeanne Philips-Roth married in 1987. He now serves as a legal advisor to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. He originally published this essay for friends and family on his Facebook page in September 2014, as a centennial tribute to Chief Judge Cooke.

 

October 15 marks the 107th anniversary of the date of New York Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke’s birth. He was a jurist of great distinction, and a person of unsurpassed decency, integrity and good cheer. I write to remember him, and to share some observations about what it meant to me to have known him.

I first met Judge Cooke in the Spring of 1981. I was 22 years old, and just completing my second year at Fordham Law School. He was Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals and had invited me to interview for a clerkship position that would begin following my graduation.

The interview was conducted in his home chambers at the Sullivan County Courthouse, in Monticello, New York, about 100 miles north and west of New York City. Each of the seven judges of the Court of Appeals maintain chambers in their hometowns. The judges would converge on Albany for two-week sessions, to confer and hear argument. During the three weeks in-between sessions, and over the summer, they would return to home chambers to work on writings and ready themselves for the next session, and so forth.

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People v. Sanger & the Birth of Family Planning Clinics in America

October 16, 1916 marks the day when the first birth control clinic opened in the United States by Margaret Sanger in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY — that was 105 years ago, yet the topic still resonates today. Take a deep dive on the history of family planning clinics in the nation from our extensive article from Judicial Notice Issue 9, written by Maria T. Vullo.

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Sojourner Truth: First African American Woman to Win a Lawsuit

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.

 

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was an African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. She was born into slavery in upstate New York, and with her infant daughter escaped to freedom in 1826. New York began to legislate for abolition of slavery in 1799, adopting emancipation legislation on July 4, 1827. The law did not provide for a specific date of collective emancipation. Rather it legislated staggered dates of freedom based on age and gender on the theory that the work force should not be overburdened. Sojourner obtained her freedom on July 4, 1827.

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Remembering Our Trustee Barry H. Garfinkel

It is with sadness that the Historical Society of the New York Courts has learned of the passing of one of our most treasured Trustees Barry H. Garfinkel following a bout of pneumonia.

Barry has been a Trustee of the Society almost since its founding. He has been a linchpin on the Board, and guided us to success in many ways. In 2007, he founded a project to bring enrichment to a segment of NYS students often overlooked — those in the State’s community colleges. The David A. Garfinkel Essay Scholarship sponsors an annual essay contest on topics of legal history relevant to many first generation and minority students. It is an opportunity for students to delve into the role of the courts in society and to connect with the courts in person through awards ceremony held each year with a luncheon where students can mingle with judges and lawyers. He has funded this initiative since its inception, and the ceremonies he attended were meaningful to him.

Barry was close to Hon. Judith S. Kaye and she chose to spend her post-court legal career at Skadden. After her death, he worked to have a room at the NYC Bar named for her.

Barry was a straight talker, sometimes gruff, but one of those rare ones who delivered when he spoke. He had a strong moral compass and saw the worth of our mission. He will be dearly missed.

The Historical Society has been named to receive donations in his honor, and the following people have made a contribution in Barry’s memory.

  • Virginia Aaron
  • Anonymous
  • Rand April
  • Hon. Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick
  • Jerome L. Coben
  • Jodi & Gary Cullen
  • Lorraine DiPaolo
  • Hon. Eugene Fahey
  • Warren Feldman
  • Hon. Helen Freedman
  • The Hazen Polsky Foundation
  • Alice & Douglass Kraus
  • The Linda and Henry Wasserstein Foundation
  • Michael Mitchell
  • Timothy Nelson
  • Bettina & Kenneth Plevan
  • Daniel Stoller
  • Barbara & Milton Strom
  • Beth & Earle Yaffa

If you are interested in learning more about Barry’s legal career — from the colleagues who worked with him at his firm for 65 years — please email history@nycourts.gov.

Hon. Thurgood Marshall

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.

 

Though Hon. Thurgood Marshall was never a judge on the New York State courts, he spent much of his career in New York. In 1936, he became assistant special council for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in its New York offices. He later became the organization’s chief counsel. During this time, Justice Marshall represented the Brown family in the seminal case Brown v. the Board of Education, arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that he would come to sit on, and winning a victory for integration in the school system.

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Elizabeth Jennings & Streetcar Desegregation in NYC

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.

 

On July 16, 1854, a 24-year-old African American school teacher named Elizabeth Jennings and her friend, Sarah Adams, were on their way to church when they hailed a Third Avenue Railroad Company streetcar. It did not have a placard, and the women were immediately challenged by the conductor. Elizabeth refused to disembark and the streetcar continued on its route until the conductor sighted a police officer and requested his assistance. Between them, the two men roughly removed Elizabeth from the streetcar, and she found herself on the sidewalk with her “bonnet smashed and her dress soiled.”

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Hon. Edward R. Dudley: First African American Administrative Judge in NYS

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.


Prior to becoming a judge, in the early 1940’s, Edward R. Dudley was recruited by Thurgood Marshall, then Chief Counsel of the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to become a Special Assistant Counsel at the Fund. In this period, before Brown v. Board of Education, the Judge worked on cases and wrote briefs seeking the admission of Black students to colleges in the south, equal pay for Black teachers, such as he had once been, and non-discriminatory public transportation. He also worked on voting rights cases. The NAACP developed a network of lawyers around the country who were willing to work on these cases. “[W]hen we got a case throughout the United States,” Judge Dudley said many years later, “we would call on these lawyers who were strategically placed, asked their help and they would give it. And this was the way we were able to handle far more than the number of cases that our office could handle itself.”

In the days before Brown, it was necessary to defend and advance the rights of the clients aggressively, but at the same time with judiciousness and care. Mr. Marshall was painfully aware that bringing a certain kind of challenge too early, before all the conditions for progress were ripe, could set the civil rights movement back 50 years.

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