Constance Baker Motley: One Woman's Fight for Civil Rights and Equal Justice under Law

constance baker motley.jpg
Author name: 
Gary L. Ford
Affiliation: 
Alumni
School: 
Law
Class Year: 
2004
Genre: 
Non-fiction
Subject: 
Biography & Autobiography

When the name Constance Baker Motley is mentioned, more often than not, the response is “Who was she?” or “What did she do?” The answer is multifaceted, complex, and inspiring.

Constance Baker Motley was an African American woman; the daughter of immigrants from Nevis, British West Indies; a wife; and a mother who became a pioneer and trailblazer in the legal profession. She broke down barriers, overcame gender constraints, and operated outside the boundaries placed on black women by society and the civil rights movement. In Constance Baker Motley: One Woman’s Fight for Civil Rights and Equal Justice under Law, Gary L. Ford Jr. explores the key role Motley played in the legal fight to desegregate public schools as well as colleges, universities, housing, transportation, lunch counters, museums, libraries, parks, and other public accommodations.

The only female attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Motley was also the only woman who argued desegregation cases in court during much of the civil rights movement. From 1946 through 1964, she was a key litigator and legal strategist for landmark civil rights cases including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and represented Martin Luther King Jr. as well as other protesters arrested and jailed as a result of their participation in sit-ins, marches, and freedom rides.

Motley was a leader who exhibited a leadership style that reflected her personality traits, skills, and strengths. She was a visionary who formed alliances and inspired local counsel to work with her to achieve the goals of the civil rights movement. As a leader and agent of change, she was committed to the cause of justice and she performed important work in the trenches in the South and behind the scene in courts that helped make the civil rights movement successful.

“Gary L. Ford’s well-researched book is more than a biography of Motley’s extraordinary life. It is an argument for recognizing the tenacious, courageous role African American women like her played in advancing the cause of civil rights and equal justice for all. To witness
Judge Motley in action was to be fortified and astounded. Now, thanks to Ford, a new generation can bear witness to her immense talents.”
—Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University, Professor, Harvard University