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2010 - The Law and Society Association Words: 426 words || 
1. Jordan, Gwen. "Why Breaking Racial Barriers Doesn’t Make Us Post-Racial: The Case of Black Women Lawyers in Illinois" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Law and Society Association, Renaissance Chicago Hotel, Chicago, IL, May 27, 2010 <Not Available>. 2018-04-23 <>
Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: A quarter of a century separated the admission of the first and second African-American women lawyers in Illinois. The first, Ida Platt, was granted her law license in 1894. Platt’s supporters heralded her accomplishment as marking the end of race and gender discrimination within the legal profession. By 1910, however, Ida Platt was “passing” in her professional life, practicing law as a white woman. When Violette Anderson earned her law license in 1920, she too was hailed as the first black woman lawyer admitted to the Illinois bar. Although Platt’s strategy (temporarily) lost her place in history as the “first,” it allowed her to pursue a career as an attorney and was actually still practicing law in Chicago when Anderson was admitted. Anderson, unaware of Platt, pursued her career as a black woman and used her position and legal expertise as tools in the fight for gender and racial justice.

The careers of Ida Platt and Violette Anderson offer a historical framework to examine the legal and social construction of race and two contrasting strategies to oppose the hierarchy those constructions impose. Anderson was the quintessential professional race woman. She adopted the “lifting as we climb” strategy of black clubwomen and consistently used her legal expertise and position to advance the race within the dominant legal system. She challenged race discrimination, but implicitly accepted the underlying legal and social construction of race. Ida Platt eschewed any race work, but her acts of passing were both a personal strategy to overcome racial discrimination and a broader challenge to the dominant ideology of race that created categories based on claimed natural differences and supported systems of segregation and subordination.

This paper analyzes the strategies Anderson and Platt employed to overcome the ways that laws and customs attempted to determine racial categories and the way those categories were then used to limit the rights of African Americans. Anderson’s efforts improved the lives and circumstances of the many women she encountered and made incremental gains in the legal and political rights of African Americans. As the primary head of her household, Platt’s efforts improved the lives and circumstances of her family and perhaps stood as a challenge to the ideology underpinning the racist regime. Their stories demonstrate the persistence of racial categories as constructed by law and custom as they also illustrate their changing and unstable nature. Together Platt and Anderson’s stories have the potential to inform the efforts of those debating the utility of racial categories in the twenty-first century and the current strategies and campaigns for racial justice.

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