Exhibition poster showing photographs of Constance Baker Motley


An exhibition at The Lillian Goldman Law Library
Yale Law School
Level Two
March 9 – June 26, 2022

This exhibit traces the career of Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005), Civil Rights attorney and New Haven native.  The first woman attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; the first Black woman to argue before the United States Supreme Court; the first Black woman Senator in New York State; the first woman Manhattan Borough President; the first Black woman to be appointed to the federal bench; one of the first Black women graduates of Columbia Law School: these and others are among the many extraordinary accomplishments of Judge Motley’s career.  Drawing on images and personal items from the collection of her family, and on her own words in her autobiography, the exhibition offers a glimpse of Motley, brilliantly at work, from her childhood in New Haven through her career as a Civil Rights attorney, New York Senator, and federal judge.


Above: selected images from the exhibition, including: Class Day at Hillhouse High School, New Haven; Motley at work with the LDF attorneys; “NAACP’s Lady of the Law,” New Haven Register; with Orzell Billingsley on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court

Related Event

MARCH 21, 12-1 pm:  A book talk with Tomiko Brown-Nagan (Harvard Law School) on her recently published biography, Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality (New York: Pantheon Books, 2022), moderated by James Forman (Yale Law School).  Hosted by the Yale African American Affinity Group and Working Women’s Network.  For further information and to register, follow this link

 Credits & Acknowledgments

The idea for this exhibition originated with Jordan Jefferson (Yale Law Library), Marinda Monfilston (Office of Diversity & Inclusion), and Fallon Thomas (New Haven Hiring Initiative), drawing on their engagement with the 2021 celebration of the centenary of Judge Motley’s birth.   It was curated with Kathryn James (Rare Book Librarian, Yale Law Library).

We would like to thank the family of Constance Baker Motley (Constance L. Royster) for their generosity in loaning these items for exhibit. We would also like to thank the supporters of this exhibit, including: The Lillian Goldman Law Library, The Yale African American Affinity Group, The Working Women’s Network, The Office of Diversity & Inclusion, and The New Haven Club, Inc.-NANPBWC.