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Macon Bolling Allen

On Behalf of | Feb 7, 2017 | International Family Law

Macon Bolling Allen

Black History Month Spotlight

Every week for the month of February, I’m going to be writing a blog post focusing on African American attorneys and the contributions they’ve made to the practice of law. I’ve chosen four outstanding attorneys to spotlight, and it figures that the first figure in the spotlight would be the first African American licensed to practice law in the United States, Macon B. Allen.

In 1844, Macon B. Allen passed the bar exam and was licensed to practice law in Maine. Despite this huge accomplishment, Allen had trouble finding clients because there were few other African Americans in the area and whites in the state were still unwilling to hire an African American attorney. Allen moved to Massachusetts where, after walking fifty miles to the testing site, he sat for and passed the bar exam in that state. By 1848, Allen was a judge and therefore became the first African American to hold a judicial position in the United States. This is really a remarkable feat if you consider that at that point in time, the United States Constitution didn’t consider him a full citizen.

After the Civil War, Allen moved to South Carolina, where he opened a practice for himself. In 1873, he was appointed a judge and later was elected probate judge in Charleston County, South Carolina. He continued to practice, even working for the Land and Improvement Association as an attorney, until he died in Washington, D.C. at the age of seventy eight in 1894.

Allen’s life and career took him in many directions, much like the rest of us. It’s not uncommon for attorneys’ careers to morph and change over time, and many of us find ourselves on a separate path from where we started, or even thought we’d go.

But it’s not to say that Allen’s career was without turbulence. He was initially rejected from becoming a licensed attorney in Maine because he was not a state citizen. Later, however, he found a loophole upon discovering that the state bar allowed you to become licensed merely for taking the bar in that state. Allen was also licensed in Massachusetts and South Carolina, where he held judicial positions ranging from justice of the peace work to probate work. His career would be wrought with struggling to make it on his own in the practice of law, with the political and cultural climate of the time affecting his ability to secure clientele. This isn’t uncommon. What is remarkable is that he was able to be a presiding judge in many states, and then serve his country for several years in a government position. That’s tenacity. That’s drive.

This is definitely a remarkable man and remarkable addition to the practice of law!