By Brianna Rhodes, Special to the AFRO
Dovey Johnson Roundtree, one of the few African-American women lawyers who broke down barriers in law during the mid-20th century died in Charlotte, North Carolina May 21. Roundtree was 104 years old.
Born in 1914, Roundtree was a pioneer in the field of law as well as many other sectors, such as ministry and the military. She played a major role in winning cases for Blacks and women in midcentury America, a time where segregation was still occuring and women were seen as the “weaker sex”.
Dovey Johnson Roundtree (middle) with Dr. Jane Smith (left) and Eloise Alexis (right) from Spelman College back in 2010/Flickr-SpelmanWebTeam
According to a 1954 article from the AFRO, Roundtree was an attorney that believed that even in law, “Women should act like women and never try to be men.”
“The male prosecutors give me hell when they can,” she said in the article. “But I don’t expect any breaks because I am a woman.”
Roundtree held a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Spelman College. She taught school before she enlisted in the army.
According to an article from The New York Times, Roundtree became one of the first women of any race to be commissioned an Army officer. When she reached the rank of captain, she recruited a number of African-American women for wartime Army service.
That accomplishment wouldn’t be the only “firsts” Roundtree would achieve.
According to The New York Times, she helped with the ban on racial segregation in interstate bus travel, was one of the first women to be ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and she also became the first African-American admitted to the Women’s Bar Association in D.C., in spite of protests from members.
Roundtree was also a founding partner of a D.C. firm called Roundtree, Knox, Hunter, & Parker back in 1970, which is still open today.
Roundtree retired in her hometown of Charlotte where she lived until her death.