Monday, May 11, 2009

Strassfeld on How the Cleveland Bar Became Segregated, 1870-1930

How the Cleveland Bar Became Segregated: 1870-1930 is a new paper by Robert N. Strassfeld, Case Western Reserve University School of Law. Here's the abstract:

This article examines the changing perimeters of professional opportunity and the professional choices made by Cleveland's African American lawyers in the early twentieth century. At the turn of the century, the Cleveland bar could fairly be described as racially integrated. The openness of the bar and the response of African American lawyers shaped the day-to-day professional lives of those lawyers. This openness manifested itself in a number of interracial law practices, in a client base for black lawyers that was predominantly white, in the court appointment practices of white judges, and in the general openness of the institutions of the Cleveland legal community to black participation. The bar was also geographically integrated. African American lawyers opened their offices in the same downtown office buildings as their white counterparts.

By 1930 a new African American lawyer in Cleveland faced a different professional landscape. While a small African American presence still existed downtown, consisting of the remnants of the earlier generation of lawyers and the handful of younger lawyers they had brought into their practices, most black lawyers could now be found in the emerging black neighborhoods of Cleveland. Increasingly, African American lawyers were invisible to non-black Cleveland. While a number of causes contributed to this invisibility, residential segregation leading to the division of the city into white and black space played an especially important role. The increasing segregation of the bar did not only result from such external forces, however. It also reflected a division within the African American legal community regarding the value of integration versus the merits of building institutions within the black community. While this division was not purely generational, members of the older generation of lawyers were the primary advocates of a robust integrationist strategy. In this way, the experience of Cleveland lawyers turns on its head the standard characterization of early twentieth century African American lawyers first described by historian Carter Woodson and by Charles Hamilton Houston.