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Civil rights figure Constance Baker Motley honored with stamp dedication at Rutgers Law School

Rutgers—Newark, Rutgers Law School and the United States Postal Service (USPS), as well as other members of the Newark community, gathered to commemorate a new stamp displaying the likeness of Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge. – Photo by Darius McClain

On Tuesday, Rutgers—Newark, Rutgers Law School and the United States Postal Service (USPS) hosted a special dedication for a new stamp honoring Constance Baker Motley, a civil rights lawyer and the first Black female federal judge, according to an announcement by Rutgers Law School.

The proceedings, held at Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hall on the Newark campus, were moderated by Della Moses Walker, the director of the New Jersey chapter of the Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections (ESPER), a nonprofit organization that promotes stamp collecting that recognizes Black people and their achievements.

"I'd like to say how wonderful of (an) occasion this is, that we are honoring a woman who was a trailblazer in the Civil Rights Movement," Walker said. "We are honoring a woman who was a — for lack of better terms — a crackerjack lawyer. We are honoring a woman who deserves to be honored."

Joel Motley, Constance Baker Motley's son, explained that his mother was the daughter of immigrants from Nevis and had eight siblings. He said Constance Baker Motley worked with Thurgood Marshall at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal Defense Fund and was involved in many cases that desegregated schools and universities throughout the South, including Brown v. Board of Education.

She then transitioned from law to politics, serving as a New York state senator and Manhattan borough president. She eventually became the first Black woman to become a federal judge, under appointment by former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, according to Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute and author of the biography, "Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality".

In a video produced by the USPS unveiling the new stamp, Brown-Nagin said Constance Baker Motley's name has become underrated, despite these career milestones, but she is glad the stamp will bring awareness to Constance Baker Motley's legacy.

"She was called the 'Civil Rights Queen' in her time and was very well known, and yet Americans today know her far less than they should, given her significance," she said.

The keynote address was delivered by Constance Royster, Constance Baker Motley's niece and a Rutgers Law School alum, who extended her appreciation to Rutgers Law School faculty, ESPER and the USPS.

In her speech, Royster discussed living with Constance Baker Motley and her husband while she attended Rutgers Law School.

"She was always there for me. She was a role model and an example of excellence for the rest of the immediate and very large extended family as well," she said.

Royster said that her aunt blazed a trail for many, including herself, to follow, despite racial and gender discrimination in both the political and legal fields.

She closed her speech with a now ironic line from Brown-Nagin's biography.

"'Motley's world-changing accomplishments should place her in the pantheon of great American leaders, but far too few Americans today know Motley's name and deeds. Her likeness is not even featured on a postage stamp.' Not anymore," she said. "Charly Palmer's beautiful United States postage stamp will help correct the record of Constance Baker Motley's place in history, I hope."

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