Virginia L. SummeyDec 7, 2022
The Life of Elreta Melton Alexander
Activism within the Courts
University of Georgia Press 2022
Virginia L. Summey's book The Life of Elreta Melton Alexander: Activism within the Courts (U Georgia Press, 2022) explores the life and contributions of groundbreaking attorney, Elreta Melton Alexander Ralston (1919–98). In 1945 Alexander became the first African American woman to graduate from Columbia Law School. In 1947 she was the first African American woman to practice law in the state of North Carolina, and in 1968 she became the first African American woman to become an elected district court judge. Despite her accomplishments, Alexander is little known to scholars outside of her hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina. Her life and career deserve recognition, however, not just because of her impressive lists of “firsts,” but also owing to her accomplishments during the civil rights movement in the U.S. South.
While Alexander did not actively participate in civil rights marches and demonstrations, she used her professional achievements and middle-class status to advocate for individuals who lacked a voice in the southern legal system. Virginia L. Summey argues that Alexander was integral to the civil rights movement in North Carolina as she, and women like her, worked to change discriminatory laws while opening professional doors for other minority women. Using her professional status, Alexander combatted segregation by demonstrating that Black women were worthy and capable of achieving careers alongside white men, thereby creating environments in which other African Americans could succeed. Her legal expertise and ability to reach across racial boundaries made her an important figure in Greensboro history.
Brandon T. Jett, professor of history at Florida SouthWestern State College, creator of the Lynching in LaBelle Digital History Project, and author of Race, Crime, and Policing in the Jim Crow South (LSU Press, 2021) and co-editor of Steeped in a Culture of Violence: Murder, Racial Injustice, and Other Violent Crimes in Texas, 1965–2020 (Texas A&M University Press, scheduled Spring 2023). Twitter: @DrBrandonJett1.