U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr. was the county's first black state's attorney and is now a federal judge in Greenbelt. He is a native of the District and has lived in Prince George's since 1973.
I view the Brown decision as the most significant decision of the 20th century. First, the decision enabled the entire nation to observe the legal brilliance and commitment of some two dozen black attorneys who devised the strategy and who advanced the successful arguments which dismantled segregation in public schools. Not only did they argue that under the separate but equal doctrine there was no equality, but they decided to attack head on de jure segregation or segregation per se as being unconstitutional.
Secondly, the Brown decision was the catalytic event which gave impetus to the civil rights movement which followed. In other words, Brown had a mushrooming effect or a spillover effect as it opened the floodgates to sit-ins, marches, freedom rides and other forms of protests. Brown also started a chain reaction and engendered a proliferation of litigation housing and minority enterprise. Brown led to executive orders by presidents and legislative enactments by Congress (e.g. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act) and other legislative bodies to address discrimination. And Brown eventually led to the enlargement of the doors of opportunity for all minorities.
Third, though desegregation and integration has not been as smooth and effective as originally envisioned by the Brown court and those supporting the decision and its remedy, Brown became the focal point behind the movement for the guarantee that every child be given adequate and equal resources in order for him or her to have an opportunity to reach their full potential.
Brown has had such a profound effect upon the lives and professional careers of so many of my generation, including my own. Many of us were among the next generation of trailblazers who happened to have been positioned in the right spot and to have launched our professional careers at the right time. That time for me was the early 1970s upon my graduation from Howard Law School, and though I was a District of Columbia native, I decided to begin my legal career in Prince George's County. Several of my law professors at Howard were a part of the team of attorneys and many of them encouraged me to take the Maryland bar and commence my law practice in Prince George's County.
Brown and the related civil rights movement had swept the country, and the timing and the atmosphere were ripe for a young black attorney to launch his or her career in a jurisdiction where the demographics were changing and in a county where there was a dire need for diversity in the legal profession. In Prince George's County there was national attention given to the massive resistance to busing in the early 1970s. Police brutality was among the most viable issues confronting the community, and there were very few African Americans employed or seen in county government or in the courthouse beyond those employed in maintenance or those criminal defendants being hauled into the courthouse in chains. It was a great challenge for me at the time, and I took advantage of the emerging opportunities to practice law in Prince George's County.
The environment created by Brown and the aftermath of civil rights protests provided me a golden opportunity to practice in an exciting jurisdiction and to reach my potential as an attorney in a jurisdiction that heretofore had been virtually closed to or limited for people of color. Those of us throughout the country and in the south, in particular, who were legally trained at that time and who found themselves as pioneers forging into new frontiers, became among the first black attorneys to have a presence in the various legal structures around the country. Here in Prince George's County I was the only black law clerk in 1973-74, clerking for the only black circuit court judge, James H. Taylor. I became the first black assistant public defender in 1976; one of the founders and the first president of the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association; the first black attorney to have been elected to serve on the Prince George's County Bar Association; chair of the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission; the first black attorney to have been elected as the state's attorney in Prince George's County; and ultimately the first black attorney outside of Baltimore city to sit on the federal court in Maryland.
Without Brown and the other struggles waged by many of those forebears who paved the way for me and others like me, across the country, it is hard to imagine how many of us could have achieved the things that we have accomplished.