By Jannette J. Witmyer,
Special to the AFRO
Sometimes it takes an incredibly long time to right a wrong, as is the case with the late attorney Edward Garrison Draper.
After being denied admission to the Maryland Bar on Oct. 29, 1857, Draper will be admitted posthumously during a special session of the Supreme Court of Maryland on Oct. 26, 2023. The ceremony’s date is approximately 166 years from the date on which he applied and qualified, but was denied based solely on his race.
Draper’s parents, Garrison and Charlotte Gilburg Draper, shared a keen interest in his education and sent their Baltimore-born son to public school for Black children in Philadelphia. From there, he attended Dartmouth College and graduated in 1855 with the intention of becoming a lawyer. When Draper presented himself for admission to the Maryland Bar two years later, having been educated and mentored by several prominent attorneys, Baltimore Superior Court Judge Zachaeus Collins Lee found him to be “qualified in all respects to be admitted to the Bar in Maryland.” Except, he was not White and, therefore, unable to practice law in Maryland.
However, after the aspiring attorney stated his interest in practicing law in Liberia, the judge issued a certificate supporting that effort. Draper left Maryland and practiced law in Liberia until his death in 1858. Now, he will finally be recognized as always having been wholly qualified to practice law in native country and state.
Maryland attorney Domonique Flowers, who along with John G. Browning, retired justice of Texas’ Fifth Court of Appeals, and University of Baltimore School of Law professor José F. Anderson petitioned for Draper’s posthumous admission to the Maryland Bar, said it’s a step in the right direction.
“I think this is a good first step into recognizing the achievements of unsung heroes in the African American community in Baltimore and in Maryland,” Flowers said. “This was a grave injustice. And this is a good first step into rectifying what happened to Mr. Draper and the refusal of a community, at that time, to recognize his achievements as a budding lawyer.”
“I also think it’s a great encouragement to other young African Americans to show that no matter what type of adversity you go through, no matter how difficult it is, you keep striving to live your dreams,” he continued. “It’s an encouragement to African-American attorneys and African- American people who aspire to be attorneys to say, ‘Hey. Despite the impediments, I need to continue the legacy of Mr. Draper and others who followed his footsteps, to bridge that gap between the lack of African-American attorneys and the need for them in our communities.”
Edward Garrison Draper’s story is an inspirational one and is outlined in Justice Browning’s law review article, “To Fight the Battle, First You Need Warriors: Edward Garrison Draper, Everett Waring, and the Quest for Maryland’s First Black Lawyer.”
Flowers’ article in the spring 2022 issue of the Bar Association of Baltimore City’s Baltimore Barrister, “In Re Taylor vs. In Re Wilson: The Plight of African Americans to Practice Law in 19th Century Maryland,” provides additional insights.