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Alexander, Raymond Pace

Alexander, Raymond Pace

October 13, 1898
November 23, 1974

The lawyer, politician, and judge Raymond Pace Alexander was born to parents of humble means and worked his way through high school as a paper boy and through college as a Pullman porter. In 1917 he graduated from Philadephia's Central High School, where he became the first African American to deliver the commencement address. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1920 and his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1923. That same year he returned to Philadelphia, established a private law practice, and married Sadie Tanner Mossell, who held a Ph.D. in economics and later graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Alexander quickly earned a reputation as a talented and accomplished trial lawyer and worked through the legal system to overcome racism. Although he is credited with ending discrimination in many Philadelphia hotels and restaurants, two of his most famous early successes were the Berwyn Schools (1923) and the Aldine Theater (1925) desegregation cases; the latter ended discrimination in Philadelphia movie theaters.

In 1935 his law practice had become so profitable that he was able to buy land and construct a building to house his law firm in the heart of the almost exclusively white Center City of Philadelphia. Alexander served two years as president of the largely African-American National Bar Association (19331935) and was a cofounder of the National Bar Journal (1925). He gained national recognition in 1951 when he replaced Thurgood Marshall as one of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) counsels in the Trenton Six trial, defending two of the six black men wrongly accused of murdering a white shop owner and his wife in Trenton, New Jersey. Alexander also prosecuted the Girard College desegregation case on behalf of the city of Philadelphia from 1953 to 1958. Although the desegregation ruling Alexander obtained was confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, it was rendered moot by a technical decision of the Philadelphia Orphans Court.

Alexander also had a career in politics. In the 1930s he made many attempts to secure a local judgeship but was thwarted by the racism of the local political parties. During the 1940s he sought various types of appointments at the federal level, but the appointment of William H. Hastie to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals effectively closed the doors to a similar appointment for Alexander. He was named honorary consul to the republic of Haiti in 1938 and in 1951 was nominated by President Truman (but not confirmed) for the ambassadorship to Ethiopia. Alexander made a successful foray into elective politics in 1951, when he was elected to the city council as a member of the Democratic reform platform, a position to which he was reelected in 1955.

In 1958 he was appointed by Pennsylvania Governor George Leader to the Common Pleas Court of Philadelphia, becoming the first African American to hold a position on that court. He entered semiretirement as a presiding judge of the Common Pleas Court in 1970 and died of a heart attack while working late in his office in 1974.

See also Hastie, William Henry; Marshall, Thurgood; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)


The Alexander Papers Collection, University of Pennsylvania Archives, Philadelphia.

paul david luongo (1996)

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