Penn Law School Establishes Civil Rights Chair With Help Of $1 Million Grant From Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

PHILADELPHIA -- With the aid of a $1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education and a contribution from the Philadelphia law firm Duane Morris, the University of Pennsylvania Law School has endowed a professorship devoted to the study of civil rights and race relations.

The Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professorship, the first at the Penn Law School named for African-Americans, commemorates the achievements of two stalwarts of the civil rights movement.  

"Establishing a civil rights chair at Penn in Sadie and Raymond Alexander's memory is a wonderful tribute to a courageous and brilliant couple," Penn President Amy Gutmann said.  "Penn was honored to be an educational partner in the creation of a special community school in West Philadelphia that bears Sadie Alexander's name.  With this chair, we are once again reminded that a good education should be available to everyone regardless of race or financial background."

"I am proud to be associated with the first civil rights chair in Penn Law history," Dean Michael A. Fitts said.  "It remains of enormous importance to advance race relations in America and to combat discrimination in any form. Only through concentrated study and discussion can we address these issues. This chair is a great step forward for our Law School and for the community."

Rep. Dwight Evans, chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, secured the $1 million state grant.

"There is no better place for a focus on civil rights than the Penn Law School," Evans said.  "Civil rights are more than fairness, more than equality, even more than justice.  Civil rights ensure that on a day-to-day basis, we are all treated with dignity and respect."

Duane Morris, among the 100 largest law firms in the world, also contributed $100,000 to fund the professorship.

Sheldon Bonovitz, the firm's chairman and chief executive officer, said, "Duane Morris is pleased to join with the Law School in support of this fundraising effort.  It is important that law students be aware of the contributions of great African-Americans.  No one has made a greater contribution in this arena than this unique couple."

The fundraising effort has been conducted for nearly two decades.  During that time, hundreds of students and alumni have lent their support.

Rae Alexander-Minter, an Alexander daughter, spearheaded the effort.

"The establishment of this professorship," she said, "will provide succeeding generations of law students with the foundation and understanding needed to confront what my parents spent a lifetime addressing: how the legal system can serve to remedy the inequalities and inequities that the marginalized and underrepresented face because of their race, class or gender."

Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander was the first African-American in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in economics and, in 1927, the first African-American woman to graduate from Penn Law School.  In 1946, President Harry Truman appointed her to the President's Committee on Civil Rights, and she was later instrumental in the creation of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Rights, serving as its first commissioner.   

In 1959, Raymond Pace Alexander was appointed the first African-American judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.  One of his decisions led to the establishment of Community Legal Services.  He and his wife played key roles in Pennsylvania's 1935 Equal Rights Law, making it illegal to deny African-Americans access to public schools, restaurants and hotels.

Alexander-Minter and her sister, Mary Brown Cannaday, have donated Laura Wheeler Waring portraits of their parents to the Penn Law School.