Profile of Annie Coker, California’s First African-American Woman Lawyer

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This month’s California Bar Journal contains an interesting profile of Annie Coker, who was the first African-American woman to be admitted to the practice of law in California. Coker received her law degree from Boalt in 1929 and was admitted to practice in the same year. Coker worked in private practice in Alexandria, Virginia for a time, and then returned to California in 1939, taking a job with the State Office of Legislative Counsel where she worked until she retired in 1966. Coker passed away in 1986.

The profile is all the more interesting because it talks about its genesis. Twenty years ago, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte was inspired to find out about the first African-American woman lawyer in California when she attended an event on women lawyers that was presented by the historical society for the northern district of California. No mention was made at the event of women of color, which moved Judge Harbin-Forte to do the research that led her to Annie Coker’s unofficial biographer who, in turn, put her in touch with Coker’s former co-workers. The judge sums it all up in the following passage at the end of the profile:

“‘I’m absolutely inspired by her,’ said Harbin-Forte. ‘For her to have come up at the time she did, and to be admitted at a time when the level of discrimination and the lack of opportunities for African-Americans, particularly in the legal profession, was high is amazing to me.

‘She’s been such an inspiration. My heart sang when I was able to learn about her.’ ”

-Anthony C. Infanti

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