This will article will surely get me sued

Anthony Joseph
Anthony Joseph, President of the Alabama State Bar

Writing about something I know little about that might upset attorneys seems like a recipe for disaster.

However, I think it would be fair to say only Birmingham attorneys would be able to explain the following.

The daughter of a friend of mine is studying abroad.  A fellow student discovered on the Internet that Birmingham has a separate bar association for black attorneys…and asked her why.  She e-mailed her father for an answer.

Knowing that I write about Birmingham, my friend, who is not an attorney, called me.

Since I’m also not an attorney and  wasn’t even aware we had a separate black and white bar, I asked a couple of white Birmingham attorneys.

One seemed genuinely embarrassed that we still had separate organizations and the other explained there were good solid reasons.

So I went to the Internet to see what the student had seen that provoked her question.

The African-American Bar is called the Magic City Bar Association.

The other is the Birmingham Bar Association.

The Magic City Bar explains on its website that…

“The MCBA was founded in 1984 primarily in response to a need to promote the professional advancement of African-American attorneys at a time when the Birmingham Bar Association was not responsive to needs of minority attorneys…”

Birmingham already has a reputation for poor race relations—so quite frankly, this was a bit unsettling.

Please note that Anthony Joseph, an African-American attorney, who practices with Maynard Cooper & Gale in Birmingham, is the current president of the Alabama State Bar and was president of the Birmingham Bar a few years back.

I have no idea if other cities have separate black and white bars, but I don’t think Birmingham has separate professional associations for accountants, physicians or other professionals?

But this article is not about what I know or think.  I’m certainly not accusing any attorney of being racially biased.  But if I stumbled across a student who interpreted two bars as negative for Birmingham, how many others have come to the same conclusion?

Why in 2013 is there a need for a separate bar for attorneys?  And what is the reason for the comments by the Magic City Bar on its web site?

As I stated earlier, I am not an attorney and I don’t know the history or justification–so I’m not qualified to judge.

But even if there are good reasons, it’s hard to believe in 2013—this is the message we’re spreading to the world.

Attorneys, black or white, please feel free to comment.  I would certainly like to understand.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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19 thoughts on “This will article will surely get me sued”

  1. No amount of rationalization can explain why there would be two separate bar associations in this area. Like you David, I am not an attorney. By any measure this is no longer about creating opportunity it is about segregation. Where are the young attorneys that partner with older wise attorneys that step up to change this? Hugh Hunter

  2. *David, thanks for your question. But, part of the premise is incorrect.  We do not have a “white” and a “black” bar association.  The Birmingham Bar Association is not a “white” bar association.  To my knowledge, many if not most African-American lawyers in Birmingham belong to the Birmingham Bar Association. The Magic City Bar Association was originally organized to promote the interest of African-American lawyers by providing a nurturing environment where one did not particularly exist at the time of its formation.  I think that the Magic City Bar has done an excellent job in supporting and mentoring African-American lawyers.  Now that African-American lawyers are found in every legal endeavor, just as are female lawyers, one may question the need for a separate association of attorneys.  While there may no longer be a “need”, that does not mean that there isn’t a place for a minority interest Bar.  That decision is something left to its membership, as it should be.  As long as its members desire to support the organization and promote programming through it, then it has a place of honor among the many other organizations that support the varying interests of Birmingham’s legal community.

  3. *Maury, I clearly understand what you are saying, but how does someone from out of state or country understand?  Birmingham has a reputation for poor race relations and then others see Birmingham has a separate black bar that says on its website that the Birmingham bar is not responsive to the needs of minorities.  I stumbled across one person who thought poorly of Birmingham.  How many others are there? You make a case that I understand, but I’m not the person we should be worried about. 

  4. *So David, what is your suggestion? That people who have a desire to belong to a worthy and respected organization disband because it upsets the sensibilities of ignorant people across the country? Almost every major city and nearly every state has a “black” bar association. 

    We spend way too much time making an issue out of symbolic nonsense rather than using our energies to find and enact positive solutions to the problems of hunger, poverty, housing, education, infrastructure and the other issues that impact all of our citizens, but minorities to an overwhelmingly greater degree.

    Let’s not worry about folks who want to get together who like too get together every now and then to eat overcooked roast beef or tasteless chicken and instead focus our energies on those who would like to have beef or chicken of any kind, just a couple of times a year.

  5. Did you know that, in addition to the Birmingham Business Alliance, there is a Greater Birmingham Black Chamber of Commerce?  There is, but I don’t think you could accurately say that Birmingham has one “white” chamber and one “black” chamber.  Instead, we have one broadly focused group, and one more narrowly focused group.  The BBA welcomes African American members, and I bet the GBBCC is happy to have white members who want to help with its objectives.

  6. *Steven, I certainly agree we would be much better served solving substantive issues.  But with Birmingham’s history, we need to be sensitive to how we are perceived.

    I believe our Birmingham Bar has a Womens’ Section.  Now let’s assume that women attroneys created their own bar association and posted…

    “The Womens’ Bar was founded in 1984 primarily in response to a need to promote the professional advancement of women attorneys at a time when the Birmingham Bar Association was not responsive to needs of women…”

    This is what I read on the first page of the Magic City Bar Website about African-Americans and the Birmingham Bar.

    Today, everyone gets information from the Internet.  At the very least, the Magic City Bar might consider changing the verbiage.

  7. * I have been a member of the Alabama Bar Association for 53 years.I am a person of African-American descent. I am a senior partner in a multi racial law firm, Sirote and Permutt, and have been since 1984. I served as President of the Birmingham Bar Association in 1984-85 after having previously served on its Executive Committee and Secretary.The Magic City Bar Association is the successor to the Charles H. Houston Legal Study Club formed in the late 1940 ‘s and early 1950’s by the late Arthur Davis Shores , Oscar W. Adams, Peter A. Hall, Orzell Billingsley, Jr. , David Hood, Philander Butler. I am of the belief that almost all of the members of the Magic City Bar are members of the Birmingham Bar Association. I am a member of both groups. I would believe that you should talk with the President of the Magic City Bar and determine if the members consider this to be a segregated Bar Association. I think there are white members of Magis City. 

    1. Mason, so good to hear from you. I didn’t assume the Magic City Bar was segregated. I’m concered what people with no information (which is about everyone except Birmingham attorneys see on the Internet. Would you consider contacting the President of the Magic City Bar and have him comment on this blog–as you did? His insight would be invaluable.

    2. * So… the same year that a man of African-American descent assumed the presidency of the Birmingham Bar Association, a new organization was formed because the very same Birmingham Bar Association was unresponsive to the needs of minorities?

  8. *3 comments are in order.  First there should be an effort to encourage the Magic City Bar to update it’s web site.  Next we need to all not refer to the Birmingham Bar as the “white” bar, and make it clear to anyone who thinks otherwise that it is not.  Finally, and I am not implying this is true of the Magic City Bar, we all know that once an organization is created it can be very difficult to “un-create” it even if its need or reason for existance is past.  There sometimes are people with vested interests in keeping it going that have nothing to do with its original purpose.

  9. This is not uncommon nor should it reflect negatively on Birmingham or any other city in this country.

    In addition, no attorney is prohibited freom joining any of the bar associations whether it is a Black Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association, the Indian Bar Association, etc. as long as dues are paid.


    Maury Chevin has already provided you with the  most thorough explanation and I hope that this appeases you, especially because there is no need to race-bait, and Birmingham has a negative image not because of the the various bar associations but rather because of the Association Of Birmingham Metropolitan Area StoneThrowers. 



    1. *Raven, Maury is one of the brightest and most thoughtful I’ve ever met. I appreciate your comments and I hope you will continue to stand up to the Association of Birmingham Metropolitan Area Stone Throwers. Unfortuneately most good citizens allow the Birmingham haters to run wild. We need to hear the voices of the majority like you and Maury who want a better metro-Birmingham.

  10. *David, I enjoy and repsect your opinions on many topics.  However, you are way off base on this one.  As explained by Mason and Maury, the Magic City Bar Association has a rich history associated with a different time in our city’s past.  Almost all members of the Magic City Bar also choose to be part of the Birmingham Bar Association.  The Magic City Bar’s webpage statement is truthful.  There was indeed a time in Birmingham’s history that African-Americans were not well-represented by the Birmingham Bar.  The continued existence of the Magic City Bar is not a blight on Birmingham, but rather an honest recognition of the civil rights struggles of the past.  The Birmingham Bar and Magic City Bar often work together on projects and the President of the Magic City Bar enjoys a seat on the Birmingham Bar’s Executive Committee.  As mentioned by others, there is much cross-membership and open admission in both institutions.  Respectfully, I believe your article calls undue attention to a non-problem and attempts to create an issue where one does not exist. 

  11. *The whole premise is wrong concerning the discovery of a bar association for black attorneys, as the author suggests. As has been pointed out there is no bar association based on race. To my knowledge a bar association is not part of or endorsed by government at any level either.

    I may simply be a contrarian but I thought one of purposes of this blog/site was to discourage folks from always dragging Birmingham issues through the mud of race relations past or present.  All an article like this does is inject racial issues and tension where none exsist.  It serves no purpose. We should be above race baiting and assumptions.

    1. Kristi, thank you so much for taking the time to comment.  I did my best NOT to take a position–and I’m still not.  These circumstances were broght to me by a friend.  I didn’t make them up.  If there’s one person who wondered about our separate bars, you have to assume there are others.  And yet there is no explanation on the Internet that clarifies.

      I’ve said this earlier, but I it’s worth repeating…

      I believe our Birmingham Bar has a Womens’ Section.  Now let’s assume that women attroneys created their own bar association and posted…

      “The Womens’ Bar was founded in 1984 primarily in response to a need to promote the professional advancement of women attorneys at a time when the Birmingham Bar Association was not responsive to needs of women…”

      This is what I read on the first page of the Magic City Bar Website about African-Americans and the Birmingham Bar.

      The objective of http://www.ComebackTown is to create a conversation for a better Birmingham.  We all need to question the status quo.  Metro-Birmingham is not competitive with our peer cities.  Obviously, the status quo is not working.

      Your comments matter to me.  I’m doing the best I know how to do.  I’m sure I get a lot of it wrong.

  12. *John, I appreciate your feedback and am sorry if you feel I’m race baiting.  That was not my intent, but I certainly see how that might be interpreted.  My intent is not to do harm, but to discuss issues that most people aren’t willing to address.

    I sure don’t ask that everyone agree with me, but you can be assured that I read every comment and think through each one.

    I find the comments on both educational and interesting.  And I hope others do also.  I personally know a lot more about the Birmingham Bar today than I did yesterday. 

    Please continue to comment–your feedback is important to me.

  13. Recently the Birmingham Bar Association and the Magic City Bar Association jointly held a gala celebration entitled “Fifty Years Forward,” an effort to take note of the important role that attorneys, both black and white, played in the civil rights movement in Birmingham.  The event was widely recognized as hugely successful.  It was my privilege on that occasion to accompany a New Yorker named Joel Motley, son of noted jurist Constance Baker Motley, who received a posthumous award for his mother.  We spent a glorious spring afternoon riding through northside neighborhoods that held important history for his mother, such as Arthur Shores’ home where she and others working on school integration matters spent the night.

    Mr. Motley quizzed me at length about the reason for the existence of the two organizations and seemed amazed that it had taken 50 years for the two bar organizations to co-sponsor an event of this magnitude.  I, in turn, was surprised at his amazement, even though in my 35 years of membership in the Birmingham Bar Association I can recall only a couple of other much smaller social events that the two organizations jointly sponsored.

    We in Birmingham seem to accept too readily the notion that people want to socialize with “their own.” Our slim efforts at sharing professional social events reflect that assumption, although there is sometimes a gnashing of teeth on the “white” end, when event planners wonder why more minority lawyers do not join or attend.  I don’t suspect that the same gnashing occurs on the other end or that there is a concern for recruitment of non-black members, because of the very reasons those organizations were formed.  This suspicion is founded on my experience in being a founding member of the Women’s Section of the Birmingham Bar Association.  For over a decade, I and my female colleagues in the bar pondered whether to form a separate organization to advance ourselves professionally.  Some of my colleagues refused to be a part of the women’s section, saying that they simply wanted to be known as lawyers and not female lawyers.  That was a goal of each of us, but like the members of the Magic City Bar, we seemed invisible in our own profession. When we finally organized, the tide turned on all fronts and we began to be included in bar elections, committee appointments, judicial nominations, and firm partnerships.  Solidifying ourselves into a cohesive interest group resulted in our professional advancement, benefitting not only our members but all women lawyers.  Our brothers and sisters in the Magic City Bar had long before discovered this, of course.

    Recalling the words of a bar official who once questioned, “Why can’t we all just be lawyers?,” I wonder how we will know when the shrouds of prejudice and stereotyping have fallen.  There may come a time when separate interest groups within our professional organizations will no longer be necessary or desirable.  Perhaps that will become more apparent when we view ourselves through the lens of an outsider.

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