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Macon Bolling Allen: First African-American Licensed Attorney

Macon Bolling Allen was not only the first African-American licensed to practice law in the United States, he was also the first to hold a judicial post.

Allen was born A. Macon Bolling in 1816 in Indiana. As a free African-American, Allen learned to read and write. As a young adult, he gained employment as a schoolteacher.

During the 1840s, Allen moved to Portland, Maine. Although it is unclear why Allen moved to Maine, historians believe it may have been because it was a free state.

While in Portland, he changed his name to Macon Bolling Allen. Employed by General Samuel Fessenden, an abolitionist and lawyer, Allen worked as a clerk and studied law. Fessenden encouraged Allen to pursue a license to practice law because anyone could be admitted to the Maine Bar association if they were considered to have good character.

However, Allen was initially rejected because he was not considered a citizen because he was African-American. However, Allen then decided to take the bar examination to bypass his lack of citizenship.

On July 3, 1844, Allen passed the exam and became licensed to practice law. Yet, despite earning the right to practice law, Allen was unable to find much work as an attorney for two reasons: many whites were not willing to hire a black attorney and there were very few African-Americans living in Maine.

By 1845, Allen  moved to Boston. Allen opened an office with Robert Morris Sr.

Their office became the first African-American law office in the United States.

Although Allen was able to make a modest income in Boston, racism and discrimination were still present--preventing him from being successful. As a result, Allen took an exam to become a Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County in Massachusetts.

As a result, Allen became the first African-American to hold a judicial position in the United States.

Allen decided to relocate to Charleston following the Civil War. Once settled, Allen opened a law office with two other African-American attorneys--William J. Whipper and Robert Brown.