“Fairness, Justice and Equality” has been the motto of the Marion County Bar Association (MCBA) since it was founded in 1925 as the Marion County Lawyers’ Club. The mission of the MCBA remains as relevant today as it was 95 years ago: to ensure the professional development of minority attorneys and judges in the Indianapolis legal community. It promotes and supports diversity initiatives and addresses social justice issues that impact people of color within the Indianapolis legal community and the Indianapolis community-at-large. 

Newly-elected officers of the Marion County Bar Association, 1983
Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society

The MCBA was established as a direct result of exclusionary policies practiced by white contemporary bar associations. James T. V. Hill was the first Black attorney to practice law in Marion County (1882-1928) and the first Black Marion County Deputy Prosecutor (1911-1915). By the close of the 19th century, fewer than 10 Black lawyers practiced in Indianapolis. The seeds of the Marion County Lawyers Club began to form around 1910 when those few lawyers began to meet informally to plan protests against discrimination in hotels, theaters, restaurants, and housing, and to address judicial elections and school desegregation.

The American Bar Association would not accept attorneys of color into its membership; nor would the professional bar associations of many of America’s states and cities, north or south, including the Indianapolis Bar Association. In 1925, a group of distinguished Black attorneys throughout the United States, with a mutual interest in, and dedication to, justice and the civil rights for all, founded the “Negro Bar Association” later called the National Bar Association (NBA).

The NBA encouraged minority lawyers throughout the country to form affiliate bar associations. From this seed, The Marion County Lawyers Club was founded in 1925. There is no record of the names of the 1925 founders, but following James T. V. Hill’s death in 1928, the NBA honored his legacy and addressed him as one of the founders of the Marion County affiliate. Newspaper articles from the Indianapolis Recorder list some of the presidents of the Lawyers Club as Robert Lee Brokenburr, Henry Richardson Jr., Freeman Ransom, and Forrest Littlejohn.

In 1932, the Marion County Lawyer’s Club hosted the Eighth Annual Convention of the National Bar Association. The event was held in the Walker Casino owned by millionaire Madame C. J. Walker. During the 1932 convention, profound concepts were articulated. Lawyers of color struggled to diversify their law practices and extend their client base so that Black lawyers could maintain profitable law practices.

At the convention, some speeches addressed concerns about the disproportionate rate of unemployment for Black American’s, foreclosure proceedings of their homes, and overall poverty. Others affirmed the minority lawyers’ task of working to ensure equal access to justice so that Black Americans would have equal economic opportunities in their pursuit of the American dream.

Despite his impressive resume, including serving as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives, when Henry Richardson Jr. applied for membership in the Indianapolis Bar Association in 1942, he was denied admission. The Indianapolis Bar Association did not accept its first Black lawyer until 1953 when it accepted Robert Brokenburr, a distinguished State Senator and Conservative Republican.

On October 27, 1942, the Marion County Lawyers Club incorporated to become the Marion County Bar Association. Six lawyers were listed as incorporators of the MCBA: Moses Wilson Beene, James Batty, E. L. Moore, Will Porter, R. B. H. Smith, and E. L. Johnson. These gentlemen also constitute the first board of directors of the association, along with three other lawyers; Howard Hooper, W. W. Hyde, and Robert Lee Brokenburr.

The Association has always been racially non-exclusive. Throughout its 95-year history, it has provided professional opportunities and career support for lawyers of color and others. Members of the MCBA have become leaders not only in the Indianapolis legal community but nationwide.

Today, the MCBA continues to provide services to its members, including professional development opportunities, continuing legal education programs, services to the community (pro bono representation programs), and law student support and scholarships. The MCBA also appoints a member to the Marion County judicial selection committee to select nominees for the Marion County courts and make recommendations to the voters concerning the retention of a judge on the court.

Revised March 2021
 

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