Macon Bolling Allen: Trailblazer of Justice and the First African American Attorney and Judge

In celebration of Black History Month, we honor Macon Bolling Allen, a pivotal figure in American history, recognized as the first African American attorney and judge in the United States. Born in Indiana in 1816, Allen was a self-taught reader and writer who initially worked as a schoolteacher. His quest for legal education led him to Portland, Maine, in the early 1840s, where he worked as a law clerk for General Samuel Fessenden, an abolitionist and attorney.

Macon Bolling Allen: Trailblazer of Justice and the First African American Attorney and Judge

Allen’s determination and intellect saw him passing the Maine bar exam on July 3, 1844, marking him as one of the first African Americans licensed to practice law in the U.S. However, his journey was fraught with challenges. In Maine and later in Boston, racial prejudice significantly hindered his ability to find legal work and clients. Despite these obstacles, Allen persisted, and his efforts to supplement his income through judiciary roles paid off when he passed a rigorous qualifying exam to become a Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County, Massachusetts, in 1848. This achievement made him the first African American to hold a judicial position in the U.S., despite the prevailing constitutional interpretations that did not recognize African Americans as full U.S. citizens.

After the American Civil War, Allen moved to Charleston, South Carolina, to practice law and was elected as a probate judge in 1874, further cementing his legacy in the legal profession. He eventually settled in Washington, D.C., continuing his practice until his death in 1894 at the age of 78.

Allen’s story is not just one of personal triumph but also a testament to the resilience and determination in the face of systemic racism and discrimination. His pioneering efforts laid the groundwork for future generations of African American lawyers and judges, making him a significant figure in both Black history and the history of the American legal system​​​​.

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