Black History

In the Spotlight #9


Charlotte E. Ray


Now most people, and I include myself in this generalisation, have never heard of this lady – Charlotte E. Ray. Who is she? Ray was born 13th January 1850 in New York City. The laws of slavery were still rampant but it was losing its flare. When Ray was around 15, she witnessed the abolition of slavery but that didn’t mean her circumstances – her freedom had changed.

Ray’s father was heavily involved in abolishing slavery and he edited a newspaper called The Colored American. Ray had the privilege of getting an education since it was very important to her father. In 1869, Ray graduated from Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C – one of few institutions were black women could gain an accredited education. Ray taught for a few years at Howard University. Later in 1872, she was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar and then to practise in the Supreme Court in Columbia later that year. Though she was well connected with the university, an eloquent and well articulate lawyer, Ray was unable to sustain continual clientele. People couldn’t see past both Ray’s complexion and her gender so instead she returned to teaching in Brooklyn.

Ray was a lady who became the first African-American to graduate from law school and the third female of any race to achieve this. She was the first woman to be admitted to the Bar and she was also the first to practise before the Supreme Court in Columbia. Her position influenced other women to the bar.

Charlotte E. Ray was a woman who succeeding in breaking barriers – not just as a black woman, but as a woman where society had deemed them as inferior…

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