Just because Black History Month has come and gone, and Women’s History Month is almost over doesn’t mean the celebrations have to end!
At LawyersInHouse.com, we strongly believe that groups who have been systemically marginalized deserve to be celebrated, recognized, and honoured all year round!
As we continue the fight for a better world, we want to take a moment to reflect on the inspirational figures and moments in history that have broken down important societal barriers and paved the way for generations to come.
Keep reading to learn about the inspiring stories of 5 Black lawyers and judges who have played a crucial role in challenging systemic racism and advancing civil and human rights!
1. Corrine Sparks (Canada, 1953-Present)
In 1987, Corrine Sparks became the first Black Nova Scotian to receive an appointment to the judiciary. She was also the first Black Canadian woman to serve as a judge.
Growing up, Sparks lived in a segregated community where Black people had few educational opportunities and schools were underfunded. Nevertheless, she persisted — “Yes, I have encountered lots of obstacles in my career and in life growing up in humble circumstances and attending segregated schools. I think it is important to confront challenges no matter how painful.”
After earning her bachelor of law from Dalhousie University, Justice Sparks adjudicated family court cases and supported judicial education while developing educational programs on racial and gender discrimination.
As a woman of colour in a male-dominated field, Sparks’ achievements have earned her several “firsts”, as well as other awards including the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers Service Award, National Association of Women and the Law Frances Lillian Fish Award, and the Congress of Black Women Service Award to name a few.
Even though Sparks’ retired in 2021, her work, strength, and determination continue to serves as an inspiration to all.
2. Nyadol Nyuon (Australia, 1987 – Present)
Nyadol Nyuon was born in a refugee camp in Ethiopia before moving to Australia and attending Melbourne Law School. She is an advocate for human rights, multiculturalism, the settlement of people with refugee experiences and those seeking asylum.
She was nominated twice as one of the 100 Most Influential African Australians. Nyuon has also received the Future Justice Prize, It Stops With Me Award, Harmony Alliance Award, and more for her efforts in empowering migrant and refugee women, and fighting racism.
Unfortunately, Nyuon has been met with racism and misogyny both online and in her public appearances, but she is resilient and continues to speak up against issues of human rights despite facing hostility.
3. Lincoln M. Alexander (Canada, 1922-2012)
Lincoln M. Alexander was the first Black Canadian to become a Member of Parliament, federal cabinet minister, and Lieutenant Governor. He was a human rights visionary who championed youth and education to combat discrimination and racism. He has received numerous awards and many schools have been named in his honour.
In 1953, Alexander graduated with a law degree from Osgood Hall Law School in Toronto. Despite his academic achievements, many established law firms turned him away because of his race.
His political career took off in 1968. Even though his work did not centre on civil rights, he still worked hard to improve the quality of life for racialized persons. He worked on immigration reform, urban renewal, the Official Languages Bill, and relief for Biafra in the Nigerian Civil War.
In 2013, Ontario proclaimed January 21st as Lincoln Alexander Day, which was nationally adopted in 2014 to celebrate his life and achievements.
4. Nelson Mandela (South Africa, 1918-2013)
Nelson Mandela was the first Black president of South Africa, and played a key role in ending the apartheid through his peaceful protests. Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944 where he was chosen as the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign, which entailed civil disobedience in the form of non-violent protests against six unjust laws.
He was imprisoned for 27 years for his anti-apartheid activism. After his release, Mandela played a key role in negotiations with the government that led to the end of the apartheid and later became the first Black president of South Africa. During his presidency, he established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated human rights violations under the previous government.
Mandela also introduced housing, education, and economic development initiatives dedicated to improve the standard of living for the Black population. Today, we celebrate the achievements of Nelson Mandela on July 18th to honour his legacy and the role he played in ending segregation in South Africa.
5. Thurgood Marshall (USA, 1908-1993)
Thurgood Marshall is best known for being a key figure in dismantling segregation laws in the United States.
When Marshall was applying to law schools, he was denied admission due to the colour of his skin. He later went on to graduate as valedictorian of his class at Howard University, where he was mentored by Charles H. Houston.
In 1954, he famously argued for the historic case: Brown v. Board of Education, where the Supreme Court agreed that racial segregation violated rights under the 14th Amendment.
In 1965, Thurgood Marshal became the first Black person to be appointed the position of US Solicitor General. In 1967, he became the first Black person to be appointed to the US Supreme Court.
Marshall passed away in 1993 but his legacy carries on today — his bible was even used by Vice President Kamala Harris when she was sworn into office.
The legacy of Black professionals in law is one that requires recognition and celebration. From fighting for civil rights to paving the way for generations to come, Black lawyers have undeniably left a lasting impact on society.
Check out the following sources that were referenced in this blog post to continue learning about Black History and Women’s History:
- Sparks, Corrine
- Corrine Sparks Biography
- Nyadol Nyuon is a Lawyer, a Former Refugee, & an Incredible Advocate
- Lincoln MacCauleyAlexander (1922 – 2012)
- Colonel the Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander
- Black Canadians in Law: A Timeline
- Nelson Mandela
- Black History Month: 6 Black Legal Trailblazers You Should Know
- Black History Month: Celebrating 10 Inspirational Black Lawyers
- Honoring Black History Month: Fifteen Black Legal Pioneers
- Six African American Lawyers to Celebrate During Black History Month