Agents of Social Change - Constance Baker Motley









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Constance Baker Motley (1921-  )
Constance Baker Motley
Constance Baker Motley, 1963. Photographer unknown. Reproduced with permission from Constance Baker Motley.

Untitled speech

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Newspaper clipping: "Going upstate"

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Finding aid

Constance Baker Motley began her remarkable career as a law clerk for Thurgood Marshall, then chief counsel for the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She went on to participate in almost every important Civil Rights case of the 1950s and '60s. In 1964, Motley became the first African-American woman elected to the New York State Senate, representing Manhattan's upper west side and west Harlem districts. In 1965, she was elected President of the Borough of Manhattan. The next year, she was appointed judge for the Southern District Court of New York, becoming the first African-American woman ever named to a federal bench. She was appointed chief justice in 1982. Constance Baker Motley died in 2005.

The Papers of Judge Motley provide a record of the career of a pioneering African-American woman in her ascent to national prominence and her courageous fight against discrimination of any kind, often in the face of strong prejudice. The Papers occupy 5.5 feet of shelf space and focus primarily on her tenures as State Senator, Borough President, and her first years as a federal judge in one of the busiest district courts in the country. While little material here relates to her early career as a civil rights attorney, an oral history transcript, biographical writings and speeches include reminiscences of that period. The bulk of the collection, however, consists of constituent correspondence, reflecting the turbulent social and political atmosphere of New York in the mid-1960s, particularly relating to issues surrounding racism and discrimination, community activism, and urban renewal in Harlem.


 Sophia Smith Collection Agents of Social Change On Line Exhibit Smith College

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