Celebrating Macon Bolling Allen
Macon Bolling Allen was born in Indiana on August 4, 1816. His birth name was actually Allen Macon Bolling, but he changed it in 1844 shortly before passing the Maine Bar Examination and acquiring his license to practice law in the state of Maine. He was the first African American licensed to practice law and the first African American to hold a judicial position in the United States.
In the 1840s, Mr. Allen worked as a law clerk for General Samuel Fessenden, a famous politician, philanthropist, and major supporter of the abolitionist movement in the predominantly-white state of Maine. Impressed with Mr. Allen’s skill and legal acumen, General Fessenden and his law partner, Samuel E. Sewall, encouraged Mr. Allen to apply for membership to the Maine Bar Association. At the time, anyone could be admitted to the Maine Bar Association so long as they “possessed good character.” However, Mr. Allen was initially rejected because, under the US Constitution at the time, he was not considered a U.S. citizen. Undeterred, Mr. Allen decided to take the Maine Bar Exam as this would provide a pathway to a law license regardless of his citizenship status.
Macon Bolling Allen passed the Maine Bar Exam on July 3, 1844, but had to move to Boston, Massachusetts after great difficulty finding sustainable legal work in his Portland community. After walking over 50 miles to the exam site, he passed the Massachusetts Bar Exam on May 5, 1845. Sadly, the community in Boston was not all that different from that found in Maine. Undeterred from his life goals, Mr. Allen took yet another rigorous exam and qualified to become a Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County, Massachusetts in 1848. As Justice of the Peace, he was tasked with presiding over minor court cases, overseeing simple criminal matters, or handling local administrative applications.
In 1868, Mr. Allen moved to Charleston, South Carolina and, together with William Whipper and Robert Brown, established the first black law firm in America. The firm was called “Law Office of Whipper, Elliot, and Allen” and was located at 91 Broad Street. Mr. Allen was appointed a Judge of the Inferior Court of Charleston in 1873 and subsequently elected as a probate Judge for Charleston County.
In 1878, Mr. Allen moved to Washington, D.C. where he was employed as a lawyer for the Land and Improvement Association until his death in 1894.
Macon Bolling Allen fathered five sons with his wife, Hannah. He died on October 10, 1894 in Washington, D.C., but is buried in Charleston, South Carolina.