Alfreda Robinson is the 77th President and CEO of the National Bar Association (NBA), a role she assumed in July 2019, and a strong voice for African American lawyers across the United States. She spent the first years of her career in private practice and served as a senior trial attorney for the Department of Justice, Civil Division until 1987, where she was in charge of litigation at the trial and appellate levels involving various commercial activities.
In 1989, she joined The George Washington University School of Law, where she currently serves as Associate Dean for Trial Advocacy and teaches pre-trial advocacy to J.D. and LL.M. students.
Q: How should the legal profession celebrate Black History Month?
Notwithstanding the challenges that America still faces, the legal profession should celebrate Black History Month by saluting our significant legal victories that moved America toward a more perfect union and the fulfillment of the guarantees of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We should honor and salute the: 1) passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, barring discrimination and segregation in education, public facilities, jobs and housing; 2) Voting Rights Act of 1965, outlawing poll taxes, literacy tests and other practices that had effectively prevented African Americans from voting in the South, authorizing the US Attorney General to dispatch federal officials to the South to register black voters if local registrars failed to comply with the federal law, and permitting federal officials to supervise elections in districts that had disfranchised African Americans; and 3) Brown V. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas, the landmark 1954 US Supreme Court decision in which the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.
Q: The National Bar Association’s history dates back nearly 100 years; what are the some of its greatest accomplishments?
Nearly all of the changes to the American civil rights landscape and strides toward greater civil equity over the past 95 years were led in whole or in part by NBA-member lawyers, from Shelley v. Kraemer in 1948, in which the US Supreme Court held that a court may not constitutionally enforce a "restrictive covenant" that prevents people of certain race from owning or occupying property, to Brown V. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas, the landmark 1954 US Supreme Court decision in which the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.
The National Bar Association was established in 1925, during the violent and segregated Jim Crow period, at a time in which African American lawyers were excluded from ABA membership, making the NBA the only accessible bar association to lawyers of color. The NBA has since become one of the largest and most prominent bar associations in the country and has left behind a lasting legacy of change and progress that all Americans benefit from today.
Q: Gertrude Rush, the first female African American lawyer in Iowa, was instrumental in the foundation of the NBA. The organization has since benefitted from the leadership of 13 women presidents, including yourself. How has this legacy of female leadership influenced your priorities for the Bar?
It has profoundly influenced my priorities to ensure that our programs, public platforms and legislative agenda focus on the well-documented gender and race disparities that plague the entire legal profession. Gender disparities are not just a women’s issue; they are a family issue.
For this reason, the primary focus of my Bar year has been the elimination of racial and gender wealth disparities. Male lawyers’ salaries and bonuses are significantly higher than those of women – especially African American women – lawyers. Our programming has focused on disparities in salary, positions, recognition and assignments.
We also held a nationwide Black Women’s Equity Day that involved press conferences, moments of silence, rallies, meetings, formal presentations, online engagements and small conversations on August 22, the date a Black woman finally earned the salary that her white, non-Hispanic male counterpart earned the previous December 31. We called attention to this disparity because it creates significant inter-generational wealth, education, home and vehicle ownership, and health disparities issues. Moreover, we had candid conversations at our formal conferences about the difficulties of women – particularly young women – to attain and hold leadership positions in bar associations like the NBA and the ABA, law firms, corporations, media organizations and legislatures. At every junction, we examined structural, unconscious and historic barriers that make it more difficult for women to assume and manage the highest positions of leadership. Our goal was to examine and eliminate these impediments. Why have only 13 NBA women been President and Chief Executive Officer? We determined that it was important to nurture, encourage and empower women to break through glass ceilings. I say often, if you are going to work this hard, you might as well be in charge!
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