Monday, December 25, 2006

Knocking at the Bar

Dec. 25, 1907
Los Angeles

There are precisely two African American attorneys in Los Angeles and their appearance against one another in court provides a bit of amusement for The Times. We can dispense with the news article and its unfortunate use of dialect rather quickly: Paul M. Nash was suing G.T. Crawford, an African American waiter, for attorneys fees after representing his wife in a divorce. Crawford was represented by Charles S. Darden.

Like most mainstream newspapers of the period, The Times rarely wrote about African Americans and stories always identified them as: “John Jones, Negro,” (or in this case, “Paul Nash, a colored man”) a habit that lasted well into the 1940s.

One of the rare occasions when The Times wrote about blacks occurred on the anniversary of Lincoln’s birthday in 1909, when the paper took stock of African American professionals in the city, counting five physicians, two dentists, five lawyers, a pharmacist, three newsmen and a veterinarian.

The story, which also mentions attorneys G.W. Wickliffe, I.D. Blair and W.E. Coleman, provides the following biographies on Darden and Nash:

Darden was born in North Carolina and graduated from Wayland Seminary. He attended Howard University, graduating from its law school in 1904. Darden settled in Los Angeles in 1905 after traveling through the U.S. and the Territory of Hawaii. “He has practiced before the United States District Courts and the State Supreme Court,” The Times says. “Mr. Darden has been promoter for several enterprises among the colored people and at present is president of an insurance company conducted for and by them.”

Nash was born in St. Louis, Mo., and attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., Harvard and Boston University Law School. At Harvard, “Mr. Nash became editor and publisher of two of the university publications and this was the first time this honor had been bestowed upon a Negro,” The Times says. Nash came to Los Angeles in 1905. “He has confined his efforts almost exclusively to civil practice and few lawyers have made the showing that Mr. Nash has in the same length of time,” The Times says.

There are times when history is ugly and this is one of those times. In August 1931, Gov. James Rolph Jr. denied reports that in filling judicial posts, he had selected Nash for the Superior Court, although he conceded that he was seriously considering Nash for an appointment.

In November 1932, Rolph said “he felt the selection of a Negro judge ‘would give the people of Los Angeles a chance to see if they want a colored judge.’ The judge would serve about four months,” the time remaining in the term of a judge who had been elevated to Superior Court. The Times noted that Fred Roberts, the Assembly’s only black legislator, was opposed to creating a court specifically for African Americans.

A week later, Rolph abandoned plans to name a black judge, saying: “In good faith, when the question was presented to me I believed it could be amicably adjusted. But it is evident that it cannot.” Rolph, citing President Coolidge, said: “I believe the people will have to establish the precedents. It is not for me to establish the precedents.”

In 1933, Nash ran for Municipal Court judge against Francis D. Adams and Clement D. Nye, the winning candidate, who was backed by The Times.

The record on Darden is even more obscure. In 1911, The Times noted that he was named to the executive committee of the National Negro Bar Assn., and hoped to organize a Los Angeles bar among the eight black attorneys practically locally. He is mentioned in 1916, when he helped incorporate the Fraternal Order of Beavers. And in 1933, he brought a lawsuit after hitting an escaped horse on the highway between Oxnard and Camarillo, charging that the owner was negligent in not keeping the animal confined.

Paul M. Nash, 3211 W. 17th, died Jan. 26, 1937, at the age of 67., and was cremated. Although he had a paid notice, The Times did not run an obituary on him.

Charles Sylvester Darden died March 12, 1954. He was 74. His death was never mentioned in The Times.

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