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Macon Bolling Allen: Black History Month Spotlight

In honor of Black History Month, members of Pond Lehocky Giordano’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee are taking the time to listen and learn. We are proud to present our series on historical BIPOC litigators who have inspired our team members

A note from author, Michael J. Parker, Esq.: I am a proud student of history. It is fascinating to think of the past and what people had to endure to bec.ome what a lot of us take for granted. As a member of the Bar for 16 years, I have a genuine love and respect for my profession. I was raised in a middle-class household by parents who worked extremely hard to provide an education and future to their children. It was my dream, at an early age, to become a lawyer and that dream was attainable. I studied hard, was educated at schools I could afford (with my parents’ help), and with perseverance, I passed the Bar Exam in 2004. I became a lawyer. The road to becoming an attorney was difficult, but it certainly was not impossible. As I was researching and preparing to author this article on Macon Boiling Allen, I developed a profound admiration to the obstacles that he had to overcome to become a member of the legal profession, which hopefully will come across in my writing

Macon Bolling Allen was born in Indiana on August 4, 1816. At the time of Macon’s birth, Indiana was not yet a part of the Union. It was to become a state in December of 1816. At the time, Indiana certainly was not a friendly place for African Americans. Indeed, Article 13 of the Indiana Constitution, ratified in 1851 provided “No Negro or Mulatto shall come into, or settle in, the State, after the adoption of this Constitution.” Furthermore, Indiana’s legislature decreed in 1843 that “colored students” could not attend public schools. These were ratified laws, so imagine what life must have been like for young Macon during his youth. Macon knew that Indiana was not a place where he could find success, so at 28 years of age, Macon moved to New England, first Massachusetts, and then on to Maine

While in Maine, Macon came under the tutelage of General Samuel Fessenden, a local abolitionist and an attorney. Fessenden took Macon under his wing and allowed him to study the law and work as his apprentice. Fessenden became certain that Macon possessed the knowledge and character to become a lawyer, so he petitioned the Portland District Court for his admission to the bar in April of 1844. The Court rejected the petition and found that Macon did not meet the state’s citizenship requirement. The fire continued to burn inside Macon to become a lawyer, and he pursued the other method of admission, which was by examination. This method did not require citizenship

The examination process was before an examination committee and Macon faced a hostile examination process. Fessenden was convinced the committee did not want Macon to be admitted. Nevertheless, Macon was able to pass the rigorous examination as Fessenden stated, “his qualifications could not be denied.” On July 3, 1844, Macon was granted a license to practice law in Maine. He became the first African American lawyer

The practice of law was difficult for Macon. White people in Maine were simply unwilling to hire a black attorney and there were so few African Americans in Maine for him to represent, which would help him make ends meet Consequently, Macon moved to Boston, Massachusetts where he was admitted to the bar in 1845. In October of 1845, Macon conducted his first jury trial; indeed, it was the first jury trial ever conducted by an African American lawyer. The case was a contract dispute and Macon represented the defendant. The jury found against Macon’s client; however, they awarded less damages than the plaintiff had requested. For those attorneys who practice civil defense work, that outcome is certainly a victory

Still, Macon faced difficulties in Boston. He still was having a challenging time earning a living. In 1847, Macon decided to try to use his legal skills for the public good and passed another rigorous qualifying examination to become the first African American Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County, Massachusetts. To put this achievement into perspective, Macon was not even allowed to be a citizen of the United States, yet he was a Justice deciding minor crimes and small claims

After the Civil War, and during the Reconstruction Era, Macon moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and opened a law practice with two other African American lawyers. The firm of Whipper, Elliott and Allen is the first known African American law firm. In 1873, the South Carolina legislature elected Macon to be a Judge of Charleston County Criminal Court. He was later elected as Probate Judge for Charleston County. Incidentally, Macon defeated the white incumbent during this election

The story of Macon Bolling Allen is a story of tremendous professional success in the face of immense obstacles. I cannot imagine the character and drive necessary for Macon’s successful journey from Indiana to New England. It is even more incomprehensible to try and imagine the character and drive necessary for him to become a lawyer and then eventually a judge in a nation that was not even willing, at the time of his first judicial appointment, to consider him a citizen. It is a story of triumph and success, even in the face of a country that has a history of discrimination and injustice. Macon makes me proud to be a lawyer; he stands for everything I know my co-workers at Pond Lehocky and I strive to be for injured and disabled clients: determined, persistent, strong, and importantly, caring.

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