That was 1968, a few months after I
got out of law school. Before that, I was
hired as the first black attorney for the
Atlanta Legal Aid Society. I was on my
way to court to try my first case, and as
I crossed the street in front of this car
I could feel the driver’s eyes on me. I
turned around and saw that it was Dr.
Martin Luther King. I was concerned
that he was alone in that old Chevrolet,
and said, “Dr. King, where are your
bodyguards?” He just asked me who I
was and what I was doing. I told him I
was on my way to try my first case and
he made the remark, “Well, you look just
like a lawyer. I wish you the very best.”
At law school, many were “first”; some
were “only.” Experiences differed.
Cooper: I transferred to Emory to help
integrate the law school with Marvin
Arrington in 1965. We were warmly
received. There were minor incidents.
I recall one evening at the law school
library, I was sitting at a table with other
students. When I looked up, they had all
moved to another table. And there were
a couple of times when I sat down in a
classroom and a white student on my
right or left would move. Other than that,
it was what you call a cakewalk.
Sampson: Law school at the University
of North Carolina was a very lonely
experience for me—I was the only African-American in my class. In fact, because I
lived in Durham, I didn’t really study at
the UNC law library on campus in Chapel
Hill. I studied at the North Carolina
Central law school library. That felt more
like home. Folks were basically cordial
at North Carolina, but being the only
African-American in a class as large as
ours … well, it left a certain impression,
let’s just leave it at that.
Moore: I was in the first class that allowed
African-American females at Emory. The
professors were extremely receptive. The
students on the other hand—the white male
students particularly—were not so receptive.
They actually told me, “Why don’t you go
home and leave this seat for someone
else?” When I was graduating, very high
in my class, one law firm came and held
interviews in the administration building.
The guy interviewing me just laughed the
whole time. He was not taking me seriously.
It is important to note that one major
firm, Kilpatrick Cody, now Kilpatrick
Stockton, through Louis Regenstein, Miles
Alexander and R. Lawrence Ashe, did offer
me an associate position when I graduated
from Emory Law School in 1971. I was so
grateful for that offer. I would have been the
first African-American female in any major
firm in Atlanta or even in Georgia. However,
I chose to enter private practice. Alexander
and Ashe have not let me live that down.
On the heels of the civil rights movement,
Atlanta was growing. Large firms
were integrating and activists were
transitioning to political office and other
positions of influence.
Cooper: The black community was trying
to get the district attorney to hire black
attorneys. I had reservations about it. I
never had envisioned myself prosecuting
anyone. I wanted to be a defense attorney
like Perry Mason. After I was offered the job,
I spoke with the black leadership in Atlanta
about whether or not to do it, and they all
agreed that it should be done. Then I told
everyone that I didn’t have the prosecutorial
mentality and couldn’t take the job. They
all understood. Everyone except Vernon
Jordan. He told me that my number had
been called, and sometimes you’ve got
to do things you don’t want to do if it will
advance the cause. So I took the job.
Moore being sworn in by Maynard Jackson
(above), with her brother Morris (middle),
and with her parents (right). “My father
ran for the school board in Amarillo,”
she says, “and crosses were burned
in our front yard.”
Sampson’s father, a law professor, spent
weekends moonlighting at the only
African-American law firm in Durham, N.C.