Black History: Special Delivery!!

macon bolling allen
Macon Bolling Allen

Macon Bolling Allen is the first African American in the United States licensed to practice law. Allen was born free in 1816 in Indiana. He learned to read and write on his own and eventually gained employment as a school teacher. Allen moved to Portland Maine in the 1840’s. He was employed there by abolitionist lawyer, General Samuel Fessenden. Allen worked as a clerk and studied law. He was encouraged by General Fessenden to obtain a license to practice law in Maine because anyone could be considered for licensure who was deemed to have good character. However, Allen’s request for licensure was denied. He was not considered a citizen due to being African American. Allen, then instead took the bar examination test and passed. He was then given a license to practice law. Despite possessing a license, he found very little work in Maine for two reasons: most whites were not willing to be represented by a black attorney and there were very few blacks living in Maine making it difficult to develop a client base.

By 1845, Allen had relocated to Boston. He took the bar exam in Boston and passed. Allen walked 50 miles to the testing site because he could not afford the travel expenses. After being admitted to the bar in Boston, he opened a law practice with Robert Morris Sr. This would be the first African American law office in the United States. Though Allen fared much better in Boston in building his clientele, racism and discrimination hindered his success. To supplement his income, Allen took an exam to become Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County in Massachusetts.

Following the Civil War, Allen relocated again; this time to Charleston, SC. Allen opened a law practice there with two other African American attorneys; William Whipper, and Robert Brown. By 1873, Allen was appointed as a judge on the Inferior Court of Charleston. He was then elected as a probate judge for Charleston County, in South Carolina. Allen moved again following Reconstruction to Washington D.C. working as a lawyer for the Land and Improvement Association.

Very little is known about Allen’s family in Indiana. Once moving to Boston, he met and married his wife Hannah. They had 5 sons. Allen died on October 10, 1894 in Washington D.C. He was survived by his wife and one son.