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February 15, 2008

Charlotte E. Ray: Beyond the law

Sometimes there’s a heavy price to be paid for being an innovator. The greater the innovation, the greater the price to be paid. This is especially true for African-American women innovators, who not only braved the cruelty of racism, but also the harshness of sexism. How hard it must have been to come home after a long day facing racists, only to find the same hostile intolerance on the faces of men of your own race, even your own family.
That’s how it was for Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911), the first African-American female lawyer in the United States.

Ray was born in New York City to a father who was a minister and journalist, and a mother who partnered with her husband as conductors on the Underground Railroad. Getting a good education was important to Ray, so she attended one of the few schools that allowed women, the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C. Knowing that women had an even more difficult time being admitted to law school, she applied to Howard University as “C.E. Ray." She graduated in 1872 as a Phi Beta Kappa and passed her bar exam the same year. However, despite her ambition, discipline, courage, and intelligence, the first black female lawyer was unable to maintain a law practice.

She returned to New York City in 1879, and she became a teacher in the public schools as well as an activist with the National Women’s Suffrage Association and the National Women’s Suffrage Association. Eventually she married, moved to Long Island, and died at the age of 60 from bronchitis.

Maybe what makes Charlotte Ray especially admirable isn’t her historic milestone of being the first black female lawyer, but that in face of failure as a lawyer, she didn’t turn her back on the community that failed to support her dream, but renewed her commitment to making others' lives better. That is the definition of heroic.

for more info, check out Charlotte's wikipedia entry


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Jon K.


You have a very nice, relaxed writing style.

Kevin Steinman

Kareem, I have read some Alice Walker, Z.N Hurston, and Nella Larson, and through their eyes I have seen how existence as an African-American woman in the days before Civil Rights and Feminism must have been frustrating, if not downright intolerable. I agree that Charlotte's commitment to her community, despite her unfortunate setbacks was an incredible testament to her spirit as a leader. Thanks for the history lesson!




Hi Kareem

I'm really enjoying your blog. You seem to me to epitomize the heroic giving with which you characterize Ms. Ray. Whether it's coaching and mentoring in the NBA or making clear for all to understand an overlooked part of American history, you haven't taken the easy way out. The poise, grace and will that characterized the awesome Skyhook is still alive and well.

ed taylor


Are you familiar with the book "Jazzmen" by Frederick Ramsey and Charles Edward Smith?

In the description of the origins of jazz the writers refer to a neighborhood in New Orleans called "Storyville". It is referenced briefly in the Ken Burns' "Jazz" series Vol 1 "Gumbo".

My question is has there ever been a documentary or film done about the era of Tom Anderson's Storyville with the likes of King Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton?

If so, please let us know in your blog.

I love your blog and your honesty and knowledge of America's roots. Keep up the good work.

ed taylor

Peter Hong

Dear Kareem: I am not much of a sports fan, but I enjoy your blog very much. It's intellectually engaging while accesible, always showing conviction but not strident.
I'm a little younger than you, and I feel like I'm getting advice from a wise older brother.
I'm glad to see you use the intrinsic appeal of your superstar celebrity status to raise substantial concerns in a low-key way, drawing us in through topics of everyday interest like physical fitness.
Please keep it up. You are like a missionary for civility and high standards. I also hope you will inspire another generation of athlete-intellectuals like you and the Bills (Russel and Bradley).

Jeffrrey Reiner

kareem, you are my favorite athlete ever. I love Giant Steps(both the coltrane song and your book) and the blog you are writing. imagine if your intelligence and approach to the world could rub off on some of today's athletes such as Roger Clemens(did not know what a vegan was). Keep up the greeat work and get Andrew to use the sky hook.


women in general had a tough time breaking into the legal field as attorneys. i'm from arizona and heard former u.s. supreme court justice sandra day o'connor tell the story about how she could not get a job as a lawyer after she graduated from stanford, #1 in her class. she was offered secretarial jobs. i'm a lawyer and attended a deposition in the early 1980s at a large law firm in phoenix. i very well remember the senior partner taking the deposition telling one of his associates to bring everyone coffee. the associate was a woman. she eventually made it to partner in that firm, then a court commissioner and then back to private practice. endurance and determination matter.


Kareem, as a Latino I have obviously not been exposed to many of the stories you have been sharing in this blog and your books. I am fascinated and drawn in by your writing style which makes all these stories and history so accessible. Thank you so much and I hope the best for you.


I discovered your blog this week, and like the others, have really enjoyed reading your posts. Your insight, writing ability, and empathy for others are admirable.


Thelma Clardy

I found it interestering that you're a student of history, Mr. Jabbar, and I wish you continued success on your historical endeavors. As a black female attorney as well as an elected official, I read with much interest your article about Charlotte Ray about whom I did some research a few years ago. Keep up the good work!

David Jensen

Fine blog with good stuff for me as well as our 6-year-old granddaughter. But I don't see an RSS feed, which would be very useful. Thanks.

David Jensen

Whoops. Just found the rss feed. Sorry.

Stephen Pace

Hi Kareem:

I admire you tremedously. I'll being reading your blog from now on.

The coolest was when you squared up on Ray (Center from somewhere) with you karate stance. You looked really bad. Smart, tough, mild mannered, articulate.

Mary Alice

Kareem, I stumbled upon your blog tonight and it is wonderful! Love the wide variety of topics, well written and thoughtful. Thanks, and I look forward to more. I know you
weren't born here, but you are a true LA treasure.
I was wondering what you think of young phenoms skipping college and heading straight in to the NBA.


Dear Kareem:

Thank you for the wonderful blog about Charlotte Ray. What an accomplished woman she was. My great-grandfather, Dr. John Henry Jordan, was a contemporary of hers. Similar to Ray, he forged a path against his own family's wishes to pursue medicine eventually becoming the first black doctor in Coweta County, Georgia, near Atlanta. I hope Charlotte Ray is never forgotten. Thank you for reminding us of how important such history is.



I've just learned that Spike Lee has a project to film Porgy & Bess. He's in competition with a major Hollywood producer. Spike Lee and his producer could have the support of the Gershwin family for his project if he can get the support of one or more influential African-American artists.

I wonder if you could help swing this for Spike, who would certainly make a more meaningful film than Hollywood and save a fascinating part of black heritage. I'm thinking of Herbie Hancock for one, but you may have a number of other ideas. Talk to Spike himself and see what you can do.

Lynda Deckard Ramos

Dear Kareem,

What a pleasure it is to read your blog in the Los Angles Times. I am an English professor in Mexico and unfortunately here most professional athletes would never be able to write a readable blog because they leave school after junior high school to pursue their sports careers. Sports is a wonderful thing, but the majority of players do not have the career longevity that you achieved. And what happens to our players when their time in the professional leagues is finished? The do not have the education to become much more than a parody of themselves, reliving their brief time in the limelight again and again, but never achieving anything more substantial. Thank you for being such a strong positive image both in sports and in life after sports!

Barbara from Pasadena

I am a white woman far past my prime years. Your essay made me wish I had known about Charlotte Ray when I was 17 years old and off to college.


Kareem, bless you and keep doing what you're doing. Knowledge is power, but that power must always be used compassionately.


Kareem "is considered by many fans and sports writers to be the greatest basketball player of all time." Well, I saw him play a lot - both at UCLA and the Forum. Now, don't get me wrong. He was great, but the best of all time?

Did Chick say Kareem was the best of all time?

Again don't get me wrong, I'm delighted that Kareem is writing his Blog. I'm really enjoying it. Different topics all the time! Relaxed, easy to read writing. Glad to know about this lady lawyer, too.

Now, if Kareem can get Andrew to be as unstoppable as he was, then I might change my tune...


Mr. Abdul-Jabbar,
You deserve high praise for using the platform you have to perform such valuable public service. It is a treat to read your educational posts about the history of race, gender, music, sports, etc. I especially liked this piece because it showed, on the one hand, that discrimination was powerful, and even brains and guts and determination were often not enough to overcome it completely, but that on the other hand, there were amazing people like Ray who continued to serve their communities, undaunted, despite such egregiously unfair setbacks. Thank you so much for what you do.

Mike in San Diego

Hi Cap.

Great variety of topics -- both current and historical -- and Charlotte Ray continues that trend. Keep finding them! Very fun to read about. Love the writing style. Brief, informative, thought-provoking.


Rodrigo Donoso


The best ever? Of course! The proof is in the pudding. Thank you for being you and sharing yourself with us. I've been a fan of yours since that day in Westwood, about 25 years ago, when my brother, sister, and I yelled to get your attenion as you were getting into your car parked in an alley and you waved and said with a great big smile, "Hey Kids!". I felt the affection in your eyes. I must have only been 9 years old. Thank you!



When Sandra Day O'Connor graduated from law school, the only jobs that she was offered were legal secretary positions.

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Captain Kareem

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered by many fans and sportswriters to be the greatest basketball player of all time. The 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame center, famous for his indefensible skyhook, dominated the NBA for 20 years, first with the Milwaukee Bucks then with the Los Angeles Lakers. Before that he was the star of the UCLA Bruins teams that won three consecutive NCAA championships. Kareem was the NBA's MVP six times, a 19-time all-star and set the NBA all-time records in nine categories. He is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, a record that may never be broken.

Since retiring as a player in 1989, Kareem has balanced his love of basketball with his love of history. In 2002 he led a USBL team, the Oklahoma Storm, to a championship. Since 2005, he has been the special assistant coach for the Lakers, working with Andrew Bynum.

In 2008 he was chosen The Greatest Player in College Basketball History.

Kareem also remains intellectually active, authoring six bestselling history books intended to popularize the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and history. His books include "Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement"; "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes"; "A Season on the Reservation," which chronicles his time teaching basketball and history on an Apache Indian reservation in White River, Ariz.; and the current New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance."

His audio adaptation, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Audio & Musical Journey through the Harlem Renaissance," is a four-volume compilation read by Bob Costas, Avery Brooks, Jesse L. Martin, and Stanley Crouch, and features private and fascinating conversations with dozens of icons, including Coach John Wooden, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and Billy Crystal. He has also been written to L.A. Times, under the Sports section.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been appearing on various radio stations and TV shows, as well as the most relevant websites talking about his life and his new audio book, On the Shoulders of Giants.

All images are property of www.iconomy.com unless otherwise stated. All info copyrighted and owned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not replicated without permission.

Come meet Kareem at the NBA Store on 5th Avenue: Friday, May 16th, from 3:15pm - 4:15pm.

Kareem_READ The American Library Association (ALA) is pleased to announce that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has joined the popular Celebrity READ poster series. The Celebrity READ poster campaign is one of the most effective ways to encourage people to get a good education, improve their reading skills, and to read for sheer enjoyment.
Mr. Abdul-Jabbar is the 2008 Honorary Chair Library Card Sign-up Month, which takes place in September. He will also appear at the American Library’s National Convention on June 28th and 29th at the Long Beach Convention Center to sign his poster.

To purchase Mr. Abdul-Jabbar's poster and to view the entire line of Celebrity READ Posters, please click here. now!

Kareem_jersey Join the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Fan Club
and win a chance to receive a prize from my official store !

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ESPN names Kareem The Greatest Player In College Basketball History

Check the latest about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Go to KareemAbdulJabbar.com for more news.
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