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Central Law School, 1890-1941

In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the first African Americans to receive a legal education were Nathaniel R. Harper, who commenced the study of law in 1860 under the instruction of George H. Penniman, a legal preceptor (defined as a specialist who provides practical training), and George A Griffiths, who studied law while employed as a storekeeper in Daviess County, Kentucky. Harper and Griffiths were the first African Americans to be admitted to the bar in the Commonwealth of Kentucky in Louisville, Kentucky on November 23, 1871.

Shortly after being admitted to the bar Nathaniel Harper established the Harper Law School, which was housed in his law office. The Harper Law School flourished for several years until 1890 when the school was absorbed into the
Central Law School which began as part of State University which subsequently became Simmons University. Nathaniel Harper became Kentucky's first African American judge in 1895.

George A. Griffiths, who owned substantial amounts of land in Daviess County, was an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Storekeeper in Daviess County.
He was a speaker for the Republican party in Owensboro, Henderson and Madisonville, Kentucky.

It is likely that the first African American woman admitted to the Kentucky bar was Sally J. Seals White, an instructor at the Central Law School, who held a law degree, (State University annual catalogue, 1892-93) and also a bachelor's degree from Fisk University. She was married to Albert S. White, Dean of the Central Law School (1896-1911).

In 1890, there were only four law schools in the United States accepting African Americans. They were Howard University, Walden University of Law, Shaw University Law School, and Central Law School. Later there were 13 African American law schools in this country. The role of the African American law school had a two-pronged basis:

1) to provide African American students from African American undergraduate schools a place to obtain their goal to receive a legal education and,

2) to provide a conduit for the African American professional wishing to serve the African American community.

The Deans of Central Law School were: John H. Lawson (1890-1896), founding Dean; Albert S. White (1896-1911); and William C. Brown, a 1903 Central Law School graduate (1911-1940).

The first graduates from Central Law School were: John P. Jetton, of Louisville, Kentucky; Isaac W. Thomas, of Hemphill, Texas; Charles W. Mason, of Evansville, Indiana; and W. H. Perry, of Louisville, Kentucky. Central Law School held its first commencement on May 10, 1892 at the Masonic Temple Theater in Louisville, Kentucky.

Central Law School was an academic unit at both State University and Simmons University. In 1918-1919, Central Law School was operated by eight proprietors. These proprietors included C.H. Parrish Sr. and W. H. Perry Sr. Central Law school existed from 1891 through 1941, with its last graduate being Coleman C. Moore in 1940.

Central Law School continued to exist from 1931 to 1940 with the opening of Louisville Municipal College in 1931. It is not apparent where Central Law School was located, what was its organizational structure nor with what institution it was affiliated; possibilities include Simmons University and/or Louisville Municipal College. Central Law School's last Dean, W. C. Brown, was legal counsel for Mammoth Life Insurance company and Central Law School may have been housed
at Mammoth Life.

Central Law School granted a law degree upon completion of a three-year course of study and offered a special legal course for women. In 1911 there were 15 Central Law School alumni. Based upon a Carnegie Report, Central Law School graduated approximately 85 students between 1911 and 1940; with a total of 100 graduates over its 50 year existence from 1890

From its inception, Central Law School provided legal education for both African American men and women. Central Law School utilized both African American men and women as law professors in the preparation of its students for the legal profession. For the decade that followed the close of Central Law School in 1940, there were no law schools in the Commonwealth of Kentucky which would accept African American men and women.

The University of Louisville desegregated its Belknap campus and opened its graduate and professional schools In 1950. The first African Americans enrollees at the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law in 1951

  • Aldred Van Calloway, graduated in 1954, admitted to the bar in 1955;
  • Willie C. Fleming, graduated in 1954, admitted to the bar in 1955;
  • James Muir Jr., a 1950 graduate of Louisville Municipal College (LMC)
  • Hortense Houston Young, an Assistant Librarian at Louisville Municipal College (LMC).

Hortense Young was the first African American female admitted to the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. She attended the law school from 1951 to 1953, with 1951 being her freshman year and 1953 being her senior year. Hortense Young did not graduate. In a conversation, Dr. Milton Young, her son, indicated that the reason given by his mother for not completing her law degree was "due to 'good ole boy' attitudes regarding women and Blacks". She went on to have a prosperous career as a entrepreneur. It appears that James Muir Jr. only attended the UofL School of Law for one academic year, 1951-1952.

"Words from LMC Alumni"
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