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28 William Mitchell Law Review 397 (2001)


Lena Olive Smith and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) created a spirited partnership in the public interest during the 1920s and 1930s. Throughout their long collaboration, this woman lawyer, her clients, and the Minneapolis branch of a national grassroots organization faced similar challenges: to stay solvent, to end segregation and increase equality, and to live with dignity. This article is divided into four sections. The first three roughly correspond with stages in Smith’s life and work. Part II briefly chronicles Smith’s first thirty six years, 1885 to 1921, as a single African-American woman in the north searching for meaningful and remunerative work. It sketches the formation of the NAACP and the legal and social context that framed Smith’s life and the civil rights struggles that followed. Part III covers 1921 to 1926, from the time Smith became licensed to practice law to the year she developed as a leader in the Minneapolis NAACP. Part IV focuses on five events during Smith’s leadership of the Minneapolis NAACP. In the conclusion, the article outlines a few simple lessons for today’s lawyers and those working for social justice.