Constance Baker Motley was born September 14, 1921 in New Haven, Conneticut, where her father was the chef at Yale's Skull & Bones Club and her mother was a founding member of the NAACP chapter. At the age of 15 she decided to become a civil rights attorney after being turned away from a whites-only swimming pool. While in high school she was president of the NAACP Youth Council and secretary of the Adult Community Center. Unable to afford college, her community service background led to a job with the National Youth Commission after having spent several months after graduation as a domestic worker.
While speaking at the Dixwell Community House, a local African American center, she came to the attention of local philanthropist Clarence Blakeslee, the primary donor of the center. Impressed by her intelligence and commitment, he offered to pay for her education. Motley first enrolled in Fisk University in Memphis, then transferred to New York University where she earned a bachelor's degree in economics in 1943. She then attended the Columbia University School of Law, graduating in 1946.
|With James Meredith|
After the successful Brown decision, she continued to work on school desegregation cases including those of Autherine Lucy, Charlayne Hunter Gault, and James Meredith. In Meredith v. Fair she became the first African American woman to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court. Throughout her twenty-year career with the LDEF she appeared before the Supreme Court ten times, winning nine and having the tenth -- a case involving minority representation on juries -- overturned in her favor twenty years later.
Spingarn Medal in 2003. She died in New York city on September 28, 2005 at the age of 84.