Today: 16-04-2024

Defying Injustice: 1857 Black Lawyer Denied Law License Posthumously Admitted to Maryland Bar

Breaking Barriers: 166 Years Later, Maryland Grants Posthumous Admission to Edward Garrison Draper, Overcoming a History of Racial Injustice

In a historic move, the Maryland Supreme Court rectified a grave injustice on Thursday by posthumously admitting Edward Garrison Draper to the state bar, 166 years after he was denied entry due to his race. The decision marks a significant moment in the legal history of the state, recognizing the discrimination faced by Draper, who, despite being fully qualified, was barred from practicing law in 1857 solely because he was not a "free white citizen of this state," as stated by a Baltimore judge.

Edward Garrison Draper, a Dartmouth College graduate in 1855, holds the unfortunate distinction of being the "earliest known individual" denied admission to the Maryland bar based on race, as acknowledged by the state supreme court. During a special session of the high court, Justice Angela Eaves emphasized the timeless importance of doing the right thing, even when more than a century and a half has passed.

Notable attendees at the session included Governor Wes Moore, the first Black governor of the state, and State Attorney General Anthony Brown, the first Black person to hold that role. Their presence underscored the significance of rectifying historical wrongs and promoting inclusivity in the legal profession.

The initiative for Draper's posthumous admission was led by a coalition comprising John Browning, a former Texas appellate judge and partner at law firm Spencer Fane; Domonique Flowers, a lawyer with the Maryland State Bar Association's pro bono arm; and Jose Anderson, a law professor at the University of Baltimore. Browning's comprehensive law review article, published in the fall of 2022, played a pivotal role in bringing attention to Draper's unjust denial and the subsequent efforts to correct this historical injustice.

Draper's journey to the bar was marked by resilience and determination. In 1832, a state law prohibited anyone but white men from becoming lawyers, yet Draper presented himself for examination before Baltimore Superior Court Judge Zaccheus Collins Lee. Although Lee denied Draper admission to the Maryland bar, he issued a certificate on Oct. 29, 1857, supporting Draper's pursuit of a legal career in Liberia. Six days later, Draper and his wife sailed to Liberia, where he faced an untimely demise due to tuberculosis on Dec. 18, 1858, just two weeks before his 25th birthday. Unfortunately, little is known about Draper's brief legal career in Liberia.

The significance of Draper's posthumous admission extends beyond his individual story, shedding light on a broader historical context of racial discrimination in the legal profession. The first Black lawyer admitted to Maryland's state bar was Everett Waring in 1885, underscoring the prolonged struggle for equality and justice within the legal community.

As Maryland takes this monumental step to acknowledge and rectify past wrongs, the legal community reflects on the enduring importance of diversity, inclusion, and the pursuit of justice for all.

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