Constance Motley Expert at Eastern

Written by Dwight Bachman

Willimantic, CT — Gary Ford Jr., assistant professor of Africana Studies at Lehman College and author of the book, “Constance Baker Motley, One Woman’s Fight for Civil Rights and Equal Justice under Law,” will speak on Feb. 14, at 3 p.m. in the Student Center Theatre on Eastern Connecticut State University campus.

Born in New Haven in 1921 as the daughter of immigrants from Nevis, British West Indies, Motley attended Fisk University before transferring to New York University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in economics. She subsequently became the first black woman accepted to Columbia Law School. A wife and mother who became a pioneer and trailblazer in the legal profession, she broke down barriers, overcame gender constraints, and operated outside the feminine role assigned to women by society and the civil rights movement.

Motley met Thurgood Marshall, chief counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and became the only female attorney to work for the fund, arguing desegregation cases in court during much of the civil rights movement. From 1946 through 1964, she was a key litigator and legal strategist for landmark civil rights cases that included the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the desegregation of the universities of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. She represented Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others jailed for their participation in sit-ins, marches and freedom rides.

“Gary Ford’s well-researched book is more than a biography of Motley’s extraordinary life,” said Henry Louis Gates, Endowed Alphonse Fletcher Professor of History and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. “It is an argument for recognizing the tenacious, courageous role African American women like her played in advancing the cause of civil rights and equal justice for all. To witness Judge Motley in action was to be fortified and astounded. Now, thanks to Ford, a new generation can bear witness to her immense talents.”

“Dr. Ford’s book has sold out three times already this year,” said Stacey Close, associate vice president of equity and diversity at Eastern, whose office invited Ford to campus. The Offices of the President, Provost and Academic Affairs, Education Professional Studies and the Graduate Division, and Departments of History, Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work are co-sponsors for Ford’s appearance at Eastern.

“The narrative of the civil rights movement is fundamentally and irrevocably altered by the inclusion of Constance Baker Motley,” said Ford. “Her story is like a breath of fresh air that only strengthens the legacy of the movement as a whole. Her contribution expands the view of history from the model of leadership by charismatic men to a more complex model that is inclusive of female change agents and leaders. Judge Motley broke down barriers for other women of color, attorneys and women in general.”

Ford earned a bachelor of arts in African American history from Harvard University; a law degree from Columbia University; a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the New School; and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland. In addition to his writing and teaching, Ford helped produce the 2012 award-winning documentary film “Justice is a Black Woman: The Life and Work of Constance Baker Motley” with director/producer Professor Michael Calia, director of the Quinnipiac University Ed McMahon Mass Communications Center and scriptwriter Susan Bailey.