Excerpted From: Domonique Flowers, Passing the Mantle: The Transformative Initiatives of Harry Cummings, Ashbie Hawkins, and the Next Generation of African American Lawyers in Maryland, to Utilize the Legal System and Advance the Racial Progress of African American Citizens, 54 University of Baltimore Law Forum 21 (Fall, 2023) (235 Footnotes) (Full Document Requested)


DomonoqueFlowersThe testimonial dinner held at Madison Street Presbyterian Church was unlike any other that come before it. A large assortment of Black Baltimore citizens gathered in the summer of 1889 to celebrate the triumph of Harry Cummings and Charles Johnson, who had recently completed their law program in only two years. What made their extraordinary accomplishment even more remarkable was that they were the only Black graduates of the University of Maryland Law School. Everett Waring and Joseph Davis, legends in their own right, both presented the newly minted lawyers with law books as well as candid advice concerning the new legacy that they would soon establish as Black lawyers. Everett Waring, a graduate of Howard Law School, was the first Black attorney to be admitted to the bar of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore on October 10, 1885. The two prominent attorneys had already made headlines in the years since and had argued many high-profile cases. Yet as Davis and Waring presided over this monumental event, they did not realize that this occasion would mark the start of a second generation of Black lawyers who would continue in their footsteps and utilize the legal system as a buttress against the specter of racial discrimination that had plagued Black citizens in Maryland.

This article addresses the legal achievements of the second generation of Black lawyers, including Harry Cummings, Joseph Davis and Ashbie Hawkins, by analyzing their progress in combating racial segregation policies using legal challenges and public policy reform in Maryland during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This article will demonstrate that this second generation not only continued the initial groundwork created by the first African American lawyers in Maryland but also transformed the legal system into a mechanism used to advance the legal rights of African American citizens in the areas of equal rights, educational policy, suffrage reform, and housing discrimination.

This article is divided into four sections. Section One provides a brief recap concerning the first generation of African American lawyers in Maryland and discusses the initial legacy that they established. It starts with the first attempts by Black individuals in Maryland to become lawyers leading up to the In re Wilson decision of 1885 which struck down the racial restriction statute that prevented African Americans from practicing law at the state level. Section Two introduces the second generation of lawyers and focuses on some of their earlier attempts to use courts to redress the grievances of African Americans resulting from discrimination from private citizens and institutions. Section Three will look at legal challenges against discriminatory practices in state and local statutes and ordinances which sought to disenfranchise and segregate Black citizens at the turn of the 20th century. Finally, Section Four analyzes the efforts of Cummings, the first Black council member in Baltimore City, to use political policy reform to advance the educational interests of African American students and teachers.

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The transformative work of the next generation of Black lawyers in Maryland cannot be overstated, as their legacy continued to reshape the ways in which African Americans sought to address the inequalities that endured. In fact, between 1885 and 1922, close to forty-two Black attorneys would eventually be added to the ranks. The attorneys that took up the mantle continued the political, social, and legal advances of their predecessors through further measures aimed at increasing the agency of Black citizens. In the area of political reform, attorneys Warner T. McGuinn and William L. Fitzgerald would serve on the Baltimore City Council from 1919 to 1923, where they continued advocating for legislation to expand Black schools as well as create movie theaters and recreational facilities for Black citizens. This effort came 30 years after Cummings and Johnson represented Black patrons who were denied access to similar public facilities. The impact of Black attorneys would reverberate throughout the 1920s and 1930s, culminating in the 1936 decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals in Murray v. Pearson, where the Court of Appeals compelled the University of Maryland to admit Black students nearly 50 years after it closed its doors to African Americans with the expulsion of Dozier and Hawkins.

From the end of Reconstruction through the early 20 century, Baltimore was without a doubt the focal point for civil rights activism that would continually change the lives of African Americans. While the spirit of activism arguably began in the decade following Reconstruction, it began to truly take shape in 1885 with the formation of the United Brotherhood of Liberty, which was one of the first civil rights organizations and arguably the precursor to the NAACP. Yet for all the hard work and progress accomplished by this organization, none of it would have been possible without the team of dedicated lawyers willing to initiate lawsuits to fight against the injustices of the day. This same fervor would continue with the litigation strategies of Cummings, Johnson, and Hawkins, whose willingness to challenge the oppressive system present in Baltimore made them a force to be reckoned with. By the turn of the century, Harry Cummings' reform measures would ensure active Black political participation for the first time at the local level, especially in the fight for the education rights of underprivileged Black students and teachers in Baltimore City.

As the 20th century unfolded with the encroaches of the anti-suffrage and housing segregation movements, Black lawyers were involved in every struggle designed to push back against these existential threats against the inherent rights and liberties of Black citizens. Together these remarkable crusaders for justice would continue to systematically transform the legal and political system of Maryland into a bulwark against racial discrimination, the effects of which would have a profound impact in the continued fight for civil rights for decades to come.

Domonique Flowers, Esq.