Following in the footsteps of Annie Coker, California’s first African-American woman lawyer, many of California’s early Black women attorneys settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. Concentrated primarily in the East Bay, these women often felt isolated amongst their male peers, frustrated with the discrimination they faced, and unwelcomed within the greater legal community. But they did not despair. Instead, they turned to each other for support, inspiration, and encouragement. Early pioneer Estella Dooley, one of the first African-American women admitted to the California Bar and the first Black woman deputy public defender in the state, held gatherings of Black women lawyers at her home in San Francisco in the 1960s. In the mid-1970s, another group of Black women lawyers began to gather under the leadership of attorneys like Julia Blackwell, Dianne Millner, Barbara Parker, and Naomi Young. These women inspired those who followed them to create an enduring organization that would be a both catalyst for change for Black women in the legal profession and, in the words of Inaugural President Cloey Hewlett, “a safe space for Black women to thrive.”
In the summer of 1979, a group of women that included Geraldine Chavis, Cloey Hewlett and future judges Maria-Elena James, Patricia McKinley, Judy Johnson, and Brenda Harbin-Forte gathered at the home of the Honorable Judith Ford (Ret.) over wine, great food, and amazing company to support and encourage one another as Black women navigating the legal profession. It was from that meeting that the organization we know today as Black Women Lawyers Association of Northern California was formed. Since 1979, Black Women Lawyers Association of Northern California has been a safe haven, voice, and sisterhood for Bay Area Black women in the law. Our events range from in-depth roundtable discussions on business development and career advancement to networking and social events to dinner discussions with frank and open dialogues unique to the needs and experiences of Black women attorneys.
Today, Black Women Lawyers Association of Northern California (“BWLNC”) is 501(c)(6). BWLNC is an affiliate member of the National Bar Association (NBA) and a member of the California Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) and the Minority Bar Coalition (MBC). Our membership is comprised of senior level executives and in-house attorneys, law firm partners and associates, solo practitioners, government attorneys, judges, law professors, and law students from some of the best institutions in the country.
BWLNC provides professional, educational, social, and moral support for Black women judges, lawyers and law students in Northern California, while also remaining dedicated to active service in our surrounding communities.