Born on October 13, 1897 in Philadelphia to a respected but impoverished family of seven, Raymond Pace Alexander faced a daunting future but as a determined, brilliant young man. He owned a bootblack stand before his thirteenth birthday. Alexander’s ambition and fortitude enabled him to obtain a scholarship to attend Central High School, the best secondary school in Philadelphia. After graduating from Central with honors, Alexander received a scholarship to attend the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated with honors in three years while working evenings and weekends as a waiter. In 1920 Alexander matriculated to Harvard Law School and earned the Juris Doctorate in 1923.
Proud, vain, handsome, Victorian, and imperious in demeanor, the exceedingly conscientious Alexander gained lifelong acquaintances and friends at Harvard and parlayed the experience into a myriad of successes upon his return to Philadelphia. In 1923 he married Sadie Tanner Mossell and established the most successful black law firm in Philadelphia. In 1929 Alexander became president of the National Bar Association. As head of the fledgling organization, Alexander literally forced every black attorney in the nation to become a civil rights advocate and provided the legal direction that ultimately forced the courts to move toward rendering more equitable decisions regarding blacks.
In 1935 Alexander became instrumental in having a Civil Rights Bill passed in Pennsylvania. By 1939 Alexander’s reputation had been so firmly established that Thurgood Marshall presented a brief for his review that provided the framework for the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. In January 1959 Governor George M. Leader appointed Alexander to fill a vacancy as judge in the Common Pleas Court of Philadelphia. He retained a position on the bench until his death in 1974.
H. Viscount Nelson, Black Leadership Responds to Crisis: The Great Depression in Philadelphia (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006).
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