The Life of Elreta Melton Alexander

Activism within the Courts

Title Details

Pages: 210

Illustrations: 11 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 05/01/2022

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6192-5

List Price: $114.95


Pub Date: 05/01/2022

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6193-2

List Price: $26.95

The Life of Elreta Melton Alexander

Activism within the Courts

A champion of the civil rights movement and an iconic legal figure in North Carolina

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  • Description
  • Reviews

This book explores the life and contributions of groundbreaking attorney, Elreta Melton Alexander Ralston (1919–98). In 1945 Alexander became the first African American woman to graduate from Columbia Law School. In 1947 she was the first African American woman to practice law in the state of North Carolina, and in 1968 she became the first African American woman to become an elected district court judge. Despite her accomplishments, Alexander is little known to scholars outside of her hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina. Her life and career deserve recognition, however, not just because of her impressive lists of “firsts,” but also owing to her accomplishments during the civil rights movement in the U.S. South.

While Alexander did not actively participate in civil rights marches and demonstrations, she used her professional achievements and middle-class status to advocate for individuals who lacked a voice in the southern legal system. Virginia L. Summey argues that Alexander was integral to the civil rights movement in North Carolina as she, and women like her, worked to change discriminatory laws while opening professional doors for other minority women. Using her professional status, Alexander combatted segregation by demonstrating that Black women were worthy and capable of achieving careers alongside white men, thereby creating environments in which other African Americans could succeed. Her legal expertise and ability to reach across racial boundaries made her an important figure in Greensboro history.

Virginia L. Summey has done an impressive amount of archival research to bring to life Alexander’s biography, and the book is enriched by an impressive array of oral histories from people who knew and worked with Alexander . . . . It is in many ways a remarkable story that resists easy categorization.

—Kathryn Schumaker, author of Troublemakers: Students’ Rights and Racial Justice in the Long 1960s

About the Author/Editor

VIRGINIA L. SUMMEY is an historian and faculty fellow in the Lloyd International Honors College at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her writing has appeared in the North Carolina Historical Review and the Washington Post. She lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.