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New Haven native, first Black female federal judge honored on US Black Heritage stamp


New Haven native Constance Baker Motley was the first Black woman to be appointed as a federal judge in the United States and argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Motley won nine of her ten U.S. Supreme Court cases. The tenth was later overturned in her favor.

She is now being featured on the 47th U.S. Postal Service Black Heritage stamp.

Motley grew up in New Haven not too far away from Yale University and was a James Hillhouse High School graduate.

Hundreds of civil rights activists and allies gathered Thursday evening with the Greater New Haven NAACP chapter and representatives from the U.S. Postal Service to celebrate Motley’s life and legacy.

There, Motley’s niece, Constance Royster, reflected on her childhood with Judge Motley, who she knew as Aunt Connie.

“She wasn’t just the judge, right? She wasn’t just the lawyer. She was also an aunt, a sister, a cousin, and she was very much a human being,” Royster said. “But she was also a judge, and let’s not forget that.”

The daughter of West Indies immigrants, Motley saw it as her duty to stand up for injustices, Royster said of her namesake. Royster also mirrored her profession after Motley, becoming a lawyer as well and a Yale University graduate.

“Before she was Constance Baker Motley, she was a staunch advocate for causes that were right,” Royster said.

Motley authored the legal brief for the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which ended segregation in schools across the country.

She was the second Black woman to graduate from Columbia University’s School of Law.

Motley’s recognition is long overdue, Greater New Haven NAACP President Dori Dumas said.

“When we first found out that the United States Postal Service had chosen her as the 47th Black Heritage Stamp we said, ‘Well it’s about time,’” Dumas said.

While Baker Motley’s honor is well-deserved, her pioneering civil rights work is still needed today, Dumas said.

“Although we are grateful and we celebrate the life and legacy of Constance Baker Motley, let’s be very clear: the struggle continues and so does the work,” Dumas said.

The stamp of Baker Motley is available on the U.S. Postal service website and in local post offices.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.