Macon Bolling Allen (1816-1894) was not only the first African-American licensed to practice law in the U.S., but he was also the first to hold a judicial post.
Allen was born A. Macon Bolling in 1816 in Indiana. As a free African-American, Allen learned to read and write. As a young adult, he gained employment as a schoolteacher.
During the 1840s, Allen moved to Portland, Maine. Although it is unclear why Allen moved to Maine, historians believe it may have been because it was a free state. While in Portland, he changed his name to Macon Bolling Allen. Employed by General Samuel Fessenden (an abolitionist and lawyer) Allen worked as a clerk and studied law. Fessenden encouraged Allen to pursue a licence to practice law because anyone could be admitted to the Maine Bar association if they were considered to have good character.
However, Allen was initially rejected. He was not considered a citizen because he was African-American. Allen then decided to take the bar examination to bypass his lack of citizenship.
On July 3, 1844, Allen passed the exam and became licensed to practice law. Yet, despite earning the right to practice law, Allen was unable to find much work as an attorney for two reasons. One, many whites were not willing to hire a black attorney and two, there were very few African Americans living in Maine.
By 1845, Allen moved to Boston. Allen opened an office with Robert Morris, Sr. Their office became the first African-American law office in the US.
Although Allen was able to make a modest income in Boston, racism and discrimination were still present and prevented him from being successful. As a result, Allen took an exam to become a Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County in Massachusetts. He became the first African-American to hold a judicial position in the US.
Allen decided to relocate to Charleston following the Civil War. Once settled, Allen opened a law office with two other African-American attorneys, William J. Whipper and Robert Brown.
The passing of the 15th Amendment inspired Allen to become involved in politics and he became active in the Republican Party.
By 1873, Allen was appointed a judge on the Inferior Court of Charleston. The following year, he was elected as a probate judge for Charleston County in South Carolina.
Following the Reconstruction period in the South, Allen relocated to Washington, D.C. and worked as a lawyer for the Land and Improvement Association.
After becoming licensed to practice law in Boston, Allen caught the attention of abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison. Allen attended the anti-slavery convention in May 1846 in Boston. At the convention, a petition was passed around in opposition to involvement in the Mexican War. However, Allen did not sign the petition, arguing that he was supposed to defend the US Constitution. This argument was made public in a letter written by Allen that was published in the Liberator. However, Allen ended his letter arguing that he still adamantly opposed enslavement.
Very little is known about Allen’s family in Indiana. However, once moving to Boston, Allen met and married his wife, Hannah. The couple had five sons: John, born in 1852; Edward, born in 1856; Charles, born in 1861; Arthur, born in 1868; and Macon B. Jr., born in 1872. According to US Census records, all of Allen’s sons worked as school teachers.
Allen died on October 10, 1894, in Washington DC. He was survived by his wife and one son.