Four years after the Supreme Court’s rejection of racial segregation in the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the whites-only Bar Association of the District of Columbia still had its library in rent-free space in the Prettyman courthouse. Some years earlier, under threat of expulsion by Attorney General Robert Jackson, the Association had agreed to let black lawyers use the library when it was in the old courthouse for an annual eight-dollar fee, rejecting proposals that they sit in a separate room.
Writing in the December issue of the Howard Law Journal (article begins on page 35), Historical Society member James H. Johnston describes what he calls “a disturbing truth.” Johnston says that despite the Bar Association’s refusal to admit black attorneys until late in 1958, “neither the federal government nor federal judges would throw it out of the courthouse.”
According to Johnston, it took seven attempts, four lawsuits, three court of appeals opinions, one federal district court opinion — and dead cats and garbage left on the lawn of Bar Association President Charles Rhyne who advocated integration — to bring about the end of the Association’s whites-only policy. The Association had voted to allow women to join 15 years earlier, in 1941.
The first African American lawyers were admitted to the Bar Association of D.C. in 1959, and in 1982 it was directed to move out of the courthouse because the judges needed the space.