Alexander, Joyce London 1949–
Joyce London Alexander 1949–
Chief Judge Joyce London Alexander has had a groundbreaking legal career. On becoming the country’s first African American Chief United States Magistrate Judge on January 2, 1996, she declared that her own accomplishments, “pale in comparison to those on whose shoulders I stand.” Earlier in her judicial career, Alexander became the nation’s first African American woman United States Magistrate Judge. Despite these immense achievements Alexander asserts that she is proudest of her accomplishments in the community.
Alexander was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1949 to Edna and Oscar London. Alexander studied at Howard University under a Boston NAACP scholarship. Although she had been interested in community involvement since her youth, Alexander took a professional interest in justice while working as a legislative assistant to Thomas “Tip” O’Neill Jr., the late Speaker of the House, during her university years. After graduating in 1969, she pursued her legal education at New England Law School, earning her degree in 1972. She embarked on her legal career in 1972 as a staff attorney with the Greater Boston Legal Assistance Project under a Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship. Subsequently, she spent several years as legal counsel for the Youth Activities Commission in Boston and as an assistant professor at Tufts University. In 1976 she began working as general counsel of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, which she continued while also working as an on-camera legal editor for WBZ-TV in Boston.
Alexander was appointed to the U.S. District Court as a magistrate judge in August of 1979. She was the first African American female magistrate judge in the nation as well as one of the youngest of any race or gender to assume that position. In 1996, Alexander was appointed Chief Judge. She told Essence that the toughest thing she encountered in her career was age discrimination: “When I first went onto the bench, I was not only the first Black woman, but I was also very young. I had to deal with some individual beliefs that one couldn’t be young and experienced.”
As an active member of the judicial community, Alexander has contributed to the Boston community in many ways, such as co-founding and serving as president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. During her
Born Joyce London in 1949; daughter of Edna and Oscar London; Education: Graduated from Howard University, 1969; New England Law School, 1972.
Career: Greater Boston Legal Assistance Project, Reginald Heber Smith community law fellowship, 1972-74; Youth Activities Commission, legal counsel, 1974-75; Tufts University, assistant professor, 1975-76; MA Board of Education, general counsel, 1976-79; U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, magistrate judge, 1979-95, Chief U.S. Magistrate judge, 1996-.
Awards: Recipient of numerous awards including law doctorates from Northeastern University Law School, Bridgewater State College, Suffolk University, and North Carolina Central University. National Bar Assn, C. Francis Stadford Award, 1997;
Memberships: President Emeritus of Urban League of MA, 1979-; chairperson of Massachusetts Black Judges Conference, 1985-87; chair, National Bar Association Judicial Council, 1987-88; board member of joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C., 1996; member of the ABA Section on International Law; member of Cameras in the Courtroom Committee of the U. S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts; chairman of the National Policy Commission of the Links, Inc.
Addresses: Office — Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, 90 Devonshire St., Room 932, Boston, MA 02109.
time as president, the branch of the national civil rights organization enjoyed a huge increase in its operating budget, as Alexander’s leadership helped raise its stature. She has held many prestigious positions among her peers. As chairperson of the Massachusetts Black Judges Conference she developed a scholarship program for minority law students. From 1987 to 1988 she served as chairperson of the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association, the nation’s most influential organization of Black judges with more than 800 members. In her capacity as chairperson, Alexander founded the educational program for judges.
Along with her legal career, Alexander has published articles covering a broad range of legal matters including civil rights, securities law, and civil litigation. She believes strongly in the importance of the law and has developed a love of her role and the contribution she can make to “society in general and [African American] people in particular.” She recognizes the “intellectual challenge” of doing her job in a way that is consistent with those goals, but asserts that through her career she has been “fair and compassionate.”
In appreciation of her work in both the legal field and her community, Alexander has garnered numerous awards and honors. In 1980 she received recognition as one of the ten Outstanding Young Women in the United States and the Boston Jaycees named her one of the Ten Outstanding Young Leaders of Massachusetts. In 1985 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference presented Alexander with a Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major for Justice Award. The following year the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association bestowed her with the Raymond Race Alexander Award. Alexander received the Equal Justice Award from the National Bar Association in 1988. Recognizing her community involvement, the Cambridge Community Center conferred Alexander with a Cambridge Community Service Award in 1992. Acknowledging Alexander’s legal and judicial scholarship, the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association honored her with the William Hastie Award in 1994. In 1997 Alexander was presented with several illustrious awards. The Harvard University Foundation for Excellence in Multicultural and Racial Relations awarded her with the Medal of Honor, and the National Bar Association honored her with their highest award, the C. Francis Stradford Award.
One area of community involvement that Alexander takes pride in is the “Kids, Courts and Citizenship.” Under the program, some 5,000 fifth-grade students from Boston public schools have visited her courtroom, held a mock trial, and discussed legal issues with her and the US Marshal over the past seven years. Alexander told Deborah Gregory of Essence that, “… if one of them says he or she wants to become a judge, then I feel I’ve succeeded.” She frequently appears in public to speak as an expert on legal and community issues. Her remarkable firsts in the judicial arena become more outstanding when put in the context of her contributions to the community and the development of young people.
Alexander finds “making a difference” one of the most rewarding parts of her job. She clearly believes in the power of the judicial system to improve her country and have an impact on ordinary people and wants African Americans to understand this. In response to a question from an Essence reporter, Chief Judge Joyce Alexander says that it is important for African Americans to know that “there are Black judges out here who do stand for justice.”
Essence, January 1997.
Honorable Joyce London Alexander’s personal Biographical Sketch.
—Amanda Beresford McCarthy
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