WASHINGTON, DC— Congressional leaders recently introduced legislation to recognize the courageous and invaluable leadership of Constance Baker Motley by posthumously awarding her the Congressional Gold Medal. Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and John Lewis (D-GA) led 13 of their colleagues in introducing the bill. Constance Baker Motley passed away at the age of 84 on September 28, 2005.
“Constance Baker Motley was a pioneer for Civil Rights in this nation,” said DeLauro. “A New Haven native, she spent her entire life giving back to her community and serving as an exemplary model of leadership and perseverance. A Congressional Gold Medal is a fitting award for a woman who broke barriers for the many who were fortunate enough to follow in her footsteps.”
Clarke said: “Born to parents from the Island of Nevis, Constance Baker Motley was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Her efforts to secure justice under the law were critical the fulfillment of the promise of our Constitution, that every person has a right to equal protection of the law. As an attorney, she wrote the initial brief filed in Brown v. Board of Education and argued before the Supreme Court in the lawsuit that allowed James Meredith to enter the University of Mississippi. As an elected official, she became the first African-American woman in the New York State Senate and the first woman Borough President of Manhattan. After her appointment to become a judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Constance Baker Motley established a reputation for fairness and a commitment to the rights of people who had previously been excluded from positions of authority. Constance Baker Motley lived a life deserving of our recognition as extraordinary.”
Rangel said: “Constance Baker Motley was a legal giant. As a lawyer, she fought tirelessly for the cause of civil rights, becoming the first African American woman to argue before the Supreme Court. It was her efforts working with Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where she was their first female attorney, which helped to end segregation in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education. Her intelligence, her powerful presence, and her impeccable skill with the law led her to become the first African American woman to serve in the New York State Senate. It was these same qualities that made her the clear choice for President Johnson to appoint to the Southern District Court of New York, making her the first African American woman to be a federal judge. In all of these roles, she never stopped working to help those most in need and ensure equal rights for all.
“I personally know the impact of her dedication, since as Manhattan borough president – another job she was the first woman to hold – she secured funds to help revitalize Harlem,” Rangel continued. “Throughout her entire life, Constance was a groundbreaking woman. Her efforts to advance the cause of civil rights continue to benefit all Americans. Her impact on our history is without question. It was her wish that her work as a judge leave the world a better place, and there is no doubt she succeeded.”
As a staff attorney at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund, Constance Baker Motley served with Thurgood Marshall as a legal advocate for civil rights for over two decades. She then went on to become the first African-American woman to serve in the New York State Senate. Later, she was elected President of the Borough of Manhattan. Lyndon Banes Johnson appointed her to the Federal Appeals Court of Southern New York in 1966, making her the first African American woman in history to serve as a Federal judge. In 1986, she assumed senior status and continued to serve on the bench with distinction for nearly two decades.
Issues: 113th Congress