The California Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) has an illustrious history and lineage of courage, activism and participation in the political process. During the 1976 National Bar Association Convention in Houston, Texas, several California attorneys and judges met and discussed the need for a statewide bar organization to address issues facing black lawyers and judges in California. After that NBA Conference, a series of informal meetings were held in Northern and Southern California. After several meetings, held both in Oakland and in Los Angeles, it was decided that a statewide association should be formed and that the initial meeting should be held in Los Angeles in April. This meeting was sponsored and planned primarily by the leadership of the Charles Houston Bar Association and the John M. Langston Bar Association. They were assisted by the Black Lawyers of San Diego County (now the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association) and the Black Women Lawyers of California.
On April 23, 1977, at the Airport Marriott in Los Angeles, Robert L. Harris, President of the Charles Houston Bar Association, called the first session of this historic meeting to order. The initial bylaws of the association were adopted and thereafter several panel discussions were held on current issues. The key panel of the morning dealt with reverse discrimination. The case discussed was Bakke v. U.C. Regrents, that was working its way through the judicial process at the time. Moderated by Judge Ben Travis and Judge Stanely Malone, the panel consisted of several noted legal scholars, including Elihu M. Harris, Billy Hunter, Professor Emma Jones, Professor Charles Lawrence, and Judge Robert M. Takasugi.
After the luncheon address, which was delivered by Justice Wiley W. Manuel, who a month earlier had become the first Black Supreme Court Justice in California’s history, the afternoon session opened with Robert L. Robertson, President of the John M. Langston Bar Association, presiding. To ensure the viability of the Association, elections were held to guide the Association into its first year of operations. Upon the nomination of Assemblyman Willie L. Brown, Jr., Donald McCullum of Oakland, California, a noted civil rights and long time NAACP attorney, was elected CABL’s first president. Other officers elected were Naomi Young as Vice President – North, Ivey Dailey as Vice President – South, Irma Brown as Secretary, and John L. Burris as treasurer. Judge Ben Travis was elected Chair of the
Judicial Section of CABL.
The primary motivating factor for the organization’s formation was to change the face of the judiciary in California and to influence the course of events pertinent to black people. The objectives and purposes included “the stimulation of black lawyers in organized bar activities, to seek out and eradicate the roots and causes of racism, and to prepare the high standards of integrity, honor, and courtesy in the legal profession.” Other objectives included to vigorously defend black people from those who would consciously or other wise deny them basic human and legal rights.
This historic gathering of the first statewide conference of Black lawyers and judges attracted over 200 prominent attorneys, judges, and other interested dignitaries and legal giants including the President (Carl Character of Cleveland) and the President-Elect (Mark T. McDonald of Houston) of the National Bar Association (‘NBA”). Others attending included Tom Daugherty, David Cunningham, Lawrence Jones, Clinton W. White, Vince Monroe Townsend, Maxine Thomas, George Holland, Thomas Broome, Horace Wheatley, and Dan Weber, to name a few. Governor Jerry Brown and the State Attorney General also spoke at the conference.
From its inception, the organization has challenged inequities in the legal system and has grown both in membership and influence. CABL continues to be instrumental in increasing the number of African-American judges throughout California. Meeting regularly with members of the State Legislature and the Governor’s Judicial Appointments Secretary, CABL has been effective in its advocacy of issues facing African Americans and others of similar experience and situation. Moreover, CABL is proud to have produced six distinguished presidents of the NBA. They include Robert L. Harris (the first Californian ever to be elected an officer of the NBA), Thomas J. Broome, James O. Cole, the Honorable Allen J. Webster, Randy K. Jones and Demetrius Shelton.
Today, the California Association of Black Lawyers represents 6,000 African-American attorneys, judges, law professors and students.