Nine individuals established the Magic City Bar Association (“MCBA”) in November of 1984 in the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement – Birmingham, Alabama – in response to a need to promote the professional advancement of African-American attorneys, to foster improvement of the economic condition, to protect the civil and political rights of all citizens, and to uphold the honor and integrity of the legal profession.
Our history pre-dates the 1984 founding. In 1960, there were less than 25 black attorneys in Alabama and they could not be members of the Birmingham Bar Association. In 1966, the Honorable Oscar Adams became the first African-American member of the Birmingham Bar Association. Even, though the doors to the Birmingham Bar Association were finally beginning to open to black attorneys, there was still a need for mentorship and collaboration among attorneys of color. In the early to mid-60’s, black attorneys in Birmingham formed a group entitled the “Charles Hamilton Houston Legal Study Club.” Members of this organization included J. Mason Davis, W. L. Williams, the Honorable Oscar Adams, Orzell Billingsley Jr. and others. The study club was named after Charles Hamilton Houston, who is regarded as the “Father of Civil Rights Law” and “The Man that Killed Jim Crow.”
Years after members of the Charles Hamilton Houston Study Society stopped meeting in the late 1970’s a new generation of Birmingham, Alabama based African-American lawyers saw the need to connect with one another for professional networking opportunities. During this time of exponential growth in the numbers of new black lawyers white law firms and institutions were still not hiring black lawyers and their survival depended on developing relationships with one another for mentoring, employment and professional enrichment.
One evening during the fall of 1983 Judge Eugene R. Verin, Samuel Fisher and the late Earnest Pugh met and after compiling a listing of Birmingham based black lawyers were astonished when the tally surpassed fifty. Within weeks a letter from the law firm headed by veteran black attorney Arthur D. Shores was sent to some 53 black lawyers to determine if there was interest in forming a new professional organization to serve the common good.
Numerous meetings during the ensuing year culminated in two formal organizational meetings held during late 1984 at the historic Fourth Avenue YMCA. Almost every black lawyer in Birmingham, including the late Arthur D. Shores, Judge David Barnes, Birmingham City Attorney James K. Baker, Philander Butler, Connie Parsons, and Henry “Hank” Thompson, attended the first meeting during which the body unanimously approved the formation of the Magic City Bar Association, Inc.
Many black attorneys were involved in the formation of the organization. During the second formal organizational meeting Articles of Incorporation were authorized and adopted on November 28, 1984 and Robert A. Jones, Jr. was selected to serve both as the infant organization’s interim chair and its first President for the 1985 year term.
There were nine individuals that signed the articles of incorporation in November 1984: Hon. Eric Fancher, Sam Fisher, Robert Jones, Hon. Edward May, Earnest Pugh, Marvin Stewart, David Sullivan, the Hon. Eugene Verin, and W.L. Williams Jr. During 1985 the Association’s membership exceeded networking expectations while at the same time forging alliances in the black community. These early efforts culminated with a highly successful annual banquet chaired by Deborah Byrd Walker. The Keynote speaker was civil rights icon Julian Bond. Attorney Walker later became the first female president of the Magic City Bar Association.
In 1989, under the presidency of Attorney Clyde Jones, a decision was made to collect $100 from each member of the Magic City Bar Association to provide scholarships to law students attending Cumberland, Alabama School of Law and Miles School of Law.
Later, in further recognizing a need to support African-American students in pursuit of a legal education, the organization established the Magic City Bar Foundation in 1993. To date, we have awarded thousands of dollars in scholarship assistance to minority students attending the Birmingham School of Law, Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, Jones School of Law, Miles Law School and The University of Alabama School of Law.
It is from these beginnings that the Magic City Bar Association, Inc. has developed into an instrument for positive change in Birmingham. Its members have become leaders in the legal community and community at large; local, state and national politicians and judges of significant influence; and, have helped bridge the gap and fostered interracial cooperation amongst its members and members of the Birmingham Bar Association. As an organization it continues to impact lives by conducting community outreach and education programs; engaging in public interest litigation; sponsoring summer law clerkships; conducted joint projects with the Birmingham Bar Association; awarded tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships to law students; and, addressed critical issues that have confronted the community to help eradicate injustice.
The MCBA continues to promote and facilitate the professional advancement of minority attorneys and provides a forum for discussing and addressing a wide variety of community issues and concerns. Today, we stand as an organization and as black attorneys on the shoulders of our founders. Without their courage, without their determination, without the stern fortitude of those that have gone before us, we would not be here today.