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Civil Rights Heroes – Jane M. Bolin

On January 11, 2007 Jane Bolin died. For many this notice means nothing, while others have not even read the articles that may have briefly mentioned her passing. Yet Jane Bolin is one of the civil rights heroes who did not just talk the talk but also walked the walk. Ms. Bolin was the first African American woman to graduate from Yale Law School; furthermore, she was the first African American woman to be appointed a judge.

Most often when talking about civil rights heroes we think of the women and men of any race who marched for the civil rights of many, for the end of racial segregation that plagued this country for far too long, and also for the abilities of their children to enjoy the same freedoms that other children enjoyed. Yet rarely do we mention the women and men of any race who may not visibly march but instead get up every morning and make a difference in the world by the work they do. They may never stand up and speak up; they may never stand in front of a crowd and speak, and they may never carry a placard or sign demanding the end or unfairness; instead, they may simply get up in the morning and conscientiously pursue their professional dreams. They may refuse to take “no” for an answer and question the status quo by ignoring the limitations it has placed on them.

Such is the case of Ms. Bolin. Born in 1908 to a racially mixed couple, her heritage and gender were considered to be detrimental when she wanted to become a lawyer, and a college advisor actually sought to steer her away from her decision. She didn’t allow herself to be discouraged and instead graduated from Yale Law in 1931. 1937 saw her appointed as an assistant corporate counsel for the law department of New York City. Her appointment to a judgeship followed in 1939. The next 40 years she dedicated to the administration of justice in the Family Court of the State of New York, and there she was able to help children and parents find colorblind justice. She refused to accept the racial segregation of child placement organizations just as she would not accept racially segregated treatment facilities. She did not believe that probation officers should be assigned based on their race and the race of the parolees either.

As you can see, Ms. Bolin was a visionary early on and she continued to strive forward to follow her dream wherever it might lead her. She volunteered much of her time and energy to ending discrimination in a number of venues, and now that her life has ended and we are able to look back at her influence, we are able to see an amazing lady who refused to accept “no,” who decidedly refused to accept the status quo and instead of asking “why” simply said “no.” We see someone who pursued avenues open to her so as to make a difference in her own neighborhood. All in all, Ms. Bolin is truly a civil rights hero.


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