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Black History Month Highlights pioneering Wisconsin attorneys

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//February 1, 2024//

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Washington, D.C. Staff photo Steve Schuster

Black History Month Highlights pioneering Wisconsin attorneys

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//February 1, 2024//

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February marks Black History Month throughout the United States.

Four years ago, the Wisconsin Association of African-American Lawyers published the histories of 11 pioneering Black Wisconsin lawyers, the State Bar of Wisconsin reported.

According to the State Bar, the booklet, “The History of Wisconsin’s Black Lawyers 2019,” also provides a brief history of Black legal organizations in Wisconsin, along with a list of Wisconsin Black lawyers from 1888 to 2018.

“There are many untold stories of attorneys who fought for civil rights and the dignity of Black people during a tumultuous time when there were very few Black lawyers,” the booklet states.

But still in 2024, the legal profession as a whole, looks quite different than the general population, and Wisconsin is no exception.

According to the American Bar Association, in 1991, when NALP began tracking race and ethnicity of law firm partners, just over 2% of all partners were lawyers of color.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C. Staff photo Steve Schuster

Fast forward to 2022 and still only 11.4% of all law firm partners were lawyers of color, according to a NALP report.

Although that figure has more than doubled in the past 15 years (when 5.4% of all partners were lawyers of color in 2007), the statistics raise questions.

Does Wisconsin’s legal community reflect the population it serves? If not, what are the potential negative consequences when the legal community is not reflective of the population it serves?

As 2024 begins, litigation ranges from attacks on Diversity, Equity and inclusion to Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps.

As previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, a federal lawsuit over a State Bar of Wisconsin diversity program was filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin over DEI practices, including its flagship “Diversity Clerkship Program. Prior to the lawsuit,  a holocaust survivor said recent attacks on DEI are reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

Also as previously reported, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is now faced with Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps.

During a Feb. 1 radio address, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said, “I was proud to submit maps to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to consider that are responsive to the will of the people, avoid partisan bias, and increase the number of competitive legislative seats.

“And I remain as optimistic as ever that Wisconsinites will soon have the fair maps they deserve at long last,” Evers added.

On Thursday, Wisconsin Democrats issued a statement about 2024 Black History month.

“As we celebrate our history this month and look to the future, it’s essential to recognize and honor the generations of Black Wisconsinites who have immeasurably enriched our country and our state and made it better and more free. Their resilience, determination, and commitment to justice have laid the foundation for progress. In doing so, we also commit to continuing their work by actively addressing racial inequities and uplift all members of our community. This ongoing effort is crucial for moving our state forward toward a more equitable and inclusive future for the generations yet to come,” a Wisconsin Democrats spokesperson said Thursday.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler concluded, “Black History Month is not merely an opportunity to reflect on the past, but also a challenge to all to carry forward the work of those who have come before.”


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