Honoring NBA Founders
The project’s goal is to honor the National Bar Association founders: 12 courageous African-American attorneys who — in Des Moines, IA — changed the course of American history in 1925. At a time when the American Bar Association and other national legal associations denied membership to African-American lawyers, these attorneys created their own legal organization. By honoring these individuals, the project preserves local cultural history that has had great significance at the national and international levels.
The National Bar Association is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of predominately African American lawyers and judges representing the United States, Africa, England, Canada, and the Virgin Islands.
African American pioneer lawyers, dedicated to fight segregation and legal racism, started to gather between 1890 and 1900 and began the formation of the National Bar Association.
The ingenuity of these Midwestern lawyers changed the course of history. The National Bar Association was founded at an Iowa Colored Bar Association convention held in Des Moines in 1924. They incorporated one year later on August 1, 1925.
The five founders were Iowans: George H. Woodson, S. Joe Brown, Gertrude E. Rush, James B. Morris, and Charles P. Howard, Sr. The others, Wendell E. Green, C. Francis Stradford, Jesse N. Baker, William H. Haynes, and George C. Adams were from Chicago, and Charles H. Calloway and L. Amasa Knox were from Kansas City.
Excerpts from ARTNews Article
… During the sculpture’s ground-breaking ceremony on November 3, 2016, Judge Odell McGee of the Polk County District Court, a former president of the Iowa chapter of the NBA, spoke of a single headstone in a church parking lot being the only visible symbol of the organization’s founding.
“The idea for a monument to the National Bar Association first arose when Judge McGee approached us in 2007,” Pamela Bookey, the founding president of Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation (GDMPAF), one of the principal organizations behind the project, explained in an interview.
Laws designed to prevent judicial candidates from soliciting campaign donations frustrated the Iowa NBA’s early attempts to raise funds. In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers mandated that the site Marshall had selected, in a small park across the Des Moines River from City Hall, undergo a water feasibility study, an expense that the NBA struggled to cover.
“If we all agreed that that was the best site for the piece, then we had to know whether or not we could do it,” Marshall said during a phone interview, a twinge of frustration in his voice. “You can’t just throw in the towel because it’s going to cost you a little bit to find out, so I paid for the study. I wanted to know if I was going to have to modify my design or not.” Despite the positive results from the test, the project went dormant. “I didn’t hear from anybody for a couple of years until I was contacted by Jessica Rowe, the director of the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation,” Marshall said. Unable to raise the funds necessary to move the project forward, the NBA had passed control of the project onto the GDMPAF.
The idea to honor the NBA founders began from a conversation between INBA past president Odell McGhee and NBA past president Evett L. Simmons in 2002 while they attended the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the NBA held in Des Moines, Ia.
A Monumental Journey
A Monumental Journey was inspired by the talking drum of West Africa. There African drummers communicated complex messages over vast distances by simply varying the pitch of the drum and using tone to mimic patterns of speech.
With the concept of one drum-form precariously stacked upon the other, the artist Kerry James Marshall has created a powerful physical and poetic expression. The large-scale sculpture embodies the notion of communication among diverse peoples and a legal system that — though not perfect — strives to be balanced. The dimensions of A Monumental Journey are 30-ft high x 16-ft diameter; the cladding is manganese ironspot brick.
S. Joe Brown (1877-1941) was the founder (1915) and first president of the Des Moines Branch of the NAACP, the oldest NAACP unit west of the Mississippi River. In 1848, Brown was the first African-American graduate from the University of Iowa in liberal arts (earning Phi Beta Kappa) and from the Iowa Law School. Brown formed a partnership with George Woodson and practiced law in Des Moines. Most of Brown’s work involved civil, probate, and title matters. He successfully argued the first race discrimination case before the Iowa Supreme Court in 1906. He was a member of the commission that drafted the nationally noted Des Moines Plan of city government in 1907. After serving in the army during World War I, Brown secured a building in Des Moines in 1918 and started the Park Street Army YMCA for black soldiers. Following the war the YMCA continued at 12th and Crocker Streets in Des Moines.
Charles P. Howard, Sr. (1890-1965) served in World War I in France as a First Lieutenant, having been trained in the segregated Black Army division in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Howard received his law degree in 1922 at Drake University Law School. He had an illustrious sports career and was an accomplished college athlete, teacher and coach. As a first year law student in 1920, Howard passed the bar examination, was admitted to practice law in Iowa, and defended a client in a first-degree murder charge, with an acquittal. A brilliant lawyer and outstanding crusader, he saved more than 75 men from the gallows. Howard co-founded the National Negro Publishers Association, because black newsmen were not welcomed in national publishing associations. By 1928, he was a county commissioner, prosecuting attorney, and publisher of The Iowa Observer. In 1948, Howard was the first black keynote speaker at the Progressive National Convention in Philadelphia that ratified the candidacy of Henry A. Wallace for U.S. president. He traveled throughout the world and promoted African unity with heads of states in Africa. He was a close friend of the celebrated American singer and Civil Rights advocate Paul Robeson.
James B. Morris, Sr. (1890-1977) was a 1915 graduate of Howard University Law School, Washington, D.C. He came to Des Moines in 1916 to visit a college classmate, George Woodson, and began his law practice in 1917. During World War I, he was a U.S. Army battalion intelligence officer in France and was wounded at the Battle of Metz. He returned to Des Moines in 1919 and resumed his law practice with S. Joe Brown. Morris served as deputy Polk County Treasurer from 1921 to 1924. A long advocate of Civil Rights, he participated in cases which ultimately resulted in greater opportunity and equal accommodation in housing, public facilities, public school teaching, and employment in Iowa. He purchased the Iowa Bystander in 1922 and under his direction it became a crusader for equal opportunity and sought to prevent indifference in the area of race relations. Morris was its publisher and editor through 1972, helping it to become one of the five oldest African-American newspapers in the United States.
Gertrude E. Durden Rush (1880-1962) was the first African-American woman to be admitted to the Iowa Bar and, in 1918, to practice law in the state of Iowa. A native of Texas, Rush was a composer and a playwright. She studied at Westerman Music Conservatory in Des Moines, and in 1914 earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Des Moines College. She later received her law degree from Drake University Law School. She practiced law until the 1950s in Des Moines and Chicago. In Des Moines, she formed the Charity League and the Protection Home for Negro Girls and organized the Woman’s Law and Political Study Club. She was a delegate to the Pennsylvania Emancipation Exposition of 1913 in Philadelphia—marking the Emancipation Proclamation’s 50th anniversary. She also chaired departments for the National Bar Association of Colored Women, and helped form the Des Moines Chapter of the NAACP.
George Henry Woodson (1865-1933) was a lawyer, politician, activist, and the first president of the National Bar Association. Woodson was born to slave parents in Virginia and graduated in 1895 from Howard University Law School. By 1896, he had opened a law practice in Iowa, with offices in Oskaloosa, Albia, and Des Moines. In 1901Woodson organized the Iowa Negro Bar Association and helped found the Iowa Chapter of the Afro-American Council. That same year he formed a partnership with S. Joe Brown that lasted 20 years. Then in 1905, Woodson answered a call from American sociologist and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois to a group of African-American intellectual elite known as the “Talented Tenth” to form an all-black national civil rights organization. Woodson became one of the founders and one of the “Original 29” members of the Niagara Movement in 1905. The Niagara Movement was the forerunner of the NAACP. Woodson also “fathered” the Republican Party among African Americans in Iowa. In 1921, Woodson returned to Des Moines to serve as deputy collector of customs, a title he held until his death. In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge appointed him to head the commission to investigate economic conditions in the Virgin Islands. He represented the Virgin Islands at the Republican National Convention in Kansas City in 1928.
Wendell E. Green (1887-1959) was the first African-American lawyer to become a Circuit Court Judge in Cook County, Illinois. Judge Green was a graduate from the University of Kansas and earned his law degree from the University of Chicago Law School. He began practicing criminal law in 1920. He was appointed to the Chicago civil service commission in 1935 and was elected a municipal court judge in 1942, then re-elected in 1948. Judge Green was appointed to the Circuit Court in 1950 and was re-elected in 1951 and 1957. He was a dedicated and distinguished judge and the first national secretary of the National Bar Association.
Cornelius Francis Stradford (1892-1963) was one of a group of attorneys, who argued the case of Hansberry et al. v. Lee et. al. (311 U.S. 32) before the U.S. Supreme Court. In this landmark 1940 case, the nation’s highest court abolished the restrictive covenants on the use of land that had limited racial integration in Chicago neighborhoods. Another notable experience in the legal career of C. F. Stradford was representing his father J. B. Stradford, also an attorney, following the historically significant Tulsa race riots of 1921. C. F. Stradford co-founded the Cook County Bar Association in Illinois. Since 1997, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has been recognizing distinguished attorneys and judges within the African-American community with the C. F. Stradford Award.
Jesse Nathaniel Baker (1890-1976) served as treasurer (1927-28) of the National Bar Association. A native of Virginia, Baker graduated from Virginia State College in 1912 and in 1917 earned a law degree at Howard University Law School, Washington, D.C. He then began practicing law in Chicago, Illinois. He served as First Sergeant in the U.S. Army at Camp Grand, Illinois from 1918-19. In 1896, with C. Francis Stradford, Wendell E. Green and other black lawyers, Baker initiated the Cook County Bar Association (CCBA) to plan protests against discrimination in hotels, theaters, and restaurants, and to address judicial elections and school desegregation. CCBA was formerly incorporated in 1920.
William H. Haynes (d’d.) was part of the CCBA delegation that traveled to Des Moines in 1925 to form the NBA. Haynes served as an advocate to protect the rights and the well being of all citizens, but particularly black citizens.
George Cornelius Adams, (1889-d’d.) a native of Louisiana, Adams earned a law degree from Howard University Law School in 1917. He practiced law in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. He was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of the United States in 1922. He instituted a suit in the Federal Courts in Chicago to enjoin the operation of the franchise granted in 1931 to the Illinois Bell Telephone Company by the City of Chicago for the sum of $15-million.
Charles H. Calloway (1878-1944) Born in Cleveland, Tennessee and grew up in Nashville. Calloway graduated from Fisk University in Nashville before receiving his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1904. In 1905, he settled in Kansas City and set up his law practice. By 1913, Calloway joined groups attempting to establish a private hospital for African Americans on the Missouri side, and when Wheatly-Provident Hospital was established, he was a member of the board of directors. Shortly after the formation of a Kansas City branch, he joined the NAACP, and served as a president of the local chapter in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1926, he was elected a 2-yr term as president of the National Bar Association. In 1941, Calloway became the first African American lawyer appointed to the staff of the city counselor’s office, where he served until his death.
L. Amasa Knox (1870-1949) was born four years after the Civil War in 1869 in Poplar Mount, Virginia. His father, Africanus Knox, was a former slave and a blacksmith by trade. As a youth, L. Amasa was an apprentice in his father’s shop, but spent his spare time reading and studying. In 1889, he entered Virginia State College in Petersburg and after graduating taught school before enrolling in 1895 at Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. Knox earned a bachelor of law degree in 1897, was admitted to the Missouri bar in Saint Louis in 1898, and practiced law in Kansas City. He became a prominent lawyer and the first Black American to represent Jackson County and to be elected to the Missouri State House of Representatives in 1928.
“The talking drum, as a point of departure, seemed like a great way to embody the ideas that I wanted to communicate in the piece,” Marshall said in ARTNews article. “On the one hand, I had been trying to find a way to use African sculptural forms as a starting point for an underlying aesthetic principle to evoke Africanness without resorting to bright colors and patterns. On the other hand, it allowed me to talk about the ways in which information and ideas relating to things like equality and justice could be communicated over time and distances.”Kerry James Marshall
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