Ruth Whitehead Whaley, a Goldsboro native, never got to practice law in North Carolina despite being the first Black woman to be certified as an attorney in our state – and now state officials are honoring her legacy, according to WRAL.
On May 25, the state installed a new historic marker honoring Whaley at the corner of Ash and John streets near downtown Goldsboro.
The marker reads “Ruth Whaley. Pioneer female African-American lawyer, first to be licensed in NC.”
“This is an opportunity that a local hero can be recognized,” Archbishop Anthony Slater said to WRAL.
Leaders and community members are hoping the new marker will serve as an example for young people in Goldsboro that despite challenges, hard work and perseverance can lead to success.
As for Whaley’s story, she left Goldsboro at 21 and headed up to New York City for her college education.
She graduated top of her class from Fordham University in New York City in 1924, but because of racist Jim Crow laws at the time, she was unable to actually practice law in her home state of North Carolina.
According to the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Whaley went to New York and became a very successful attorney there.
In 1944, Whaley turned her attention to politics and became one of the first Black women ever to be nominated by a major political party when she ran for a New York City Council seat, WRAL reported.
In 1951, Whaley was named secretary of the New York City Board of Estimate, a position she held for more than 20 years. Whaley died on Dec. 23, 1977.
Slater spoke at the marker dedication and talked about Whaley’s impressive life and work ethic.
“Here’s a woman who came against all odds, and was successful, is successful,” Slater said. “It is a> platform for those who are coming behind that can do the same thing, if not greater.”
The archbishop told WRAL that while researching Whaley’s life, he found that she had struggles with education, political representation and poverty – issues that Slater said are still found in places like Goldsboro.
“There’s not a playing field that’s fair, we’ve got to come to grips with that,” Slater said. “But we have a capability now that we can make some changes.”
Click here to read more from WRAL.