Constance Baker Motley

Making history and making law are the twin components of Constance Baker Motley’s extraordinary life and career. Motley’s legal career began as a law clerk in the fledgling National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund, where she clerked for Thurgood Marshall.

She became a key legal strategist in the civil rights movement, helping to desegregate Southern schools, busses, lunch counters – and successfully argued nine of ten cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1964, Motley became the first Black woman elected to the New York State Senate; in 1965 she was chosen Manhattan Borough President – the first woman and first Black American in that position; and in 1966, President Johnson named her a Federal Court judge – the first Black woman so named. Known as an incisive and capable judge, Motley believed her presence made a difference: “As the first black and first woman, I am proving in everything I do that blacks and women are as capable as anyone.”

Year Honored: 1993
Birth: 1921 - 2005
Achievements: Government