Dovey Johnson Roundtree, an attorney who won important battles for race and gender equality in the military, transportation and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, died Monday in Charlotte, North Carolina, at 104, the Charlotte Observer reported.
In 1955, Roundtree's client Sarah Keys won a case with the Interstate Commerce Commission after she refused to give up her seat for a white Marine, the Observer said. The case led to the ICC voting to end "separate but equal" in interstate busing and pathed the way for the Freedom Riders to test that ruling through the South, the newspaper said.
She graduated from all-black Spelman College, and three years later she was recruited by famed activist Mary McLeod Bethune to become one of the first black women to train as officers in the newly formed Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, the Observer said.
Roundtree was sent to recruit other black servicewomen in the South and outpaced her supervisors' expectations, the newspaper said.
"She was a force in changing the military before it was desegregated in 1948," biographer Katie McCabe told the Observer. "She was a pioneer. She took the brunt of it, right in the gut, in an era when the military didn't want black men – and they didn't want women at all."
Roundtree went on to earn law and divinity degrees at Howard University in Washington, D.C., the newspaper said. In 1961, she was among the first women to be ordained to the ministry in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and for 35 years served on the ministerial staff of Allen Chapel AME Church in Southeast Washington.
McCabe told The New York Times that Roundtree not only had to fight for African-American rights, but break through sexist civil rights leaders.
"One has to start with the fact — and I think it's an acknowledged fact — that the civil rights movement was notoriously sexist," McCabe said in 2016 to the Times. "There were many men who did not appreciate being ground up into hamburger meat by Dovey Roundtree.
"There are many, many white lawyers — male — in Washington who were humiliated by having been beaten by a black woman. And I think that played out in a number of ways. And one of those ways has been a diminution in the recognition that I think her accomplishments merit," McCabe continued.
Roundtree became the first black member of the Women's Bar Association of D.C., leading to a revolt among its membership, many of whom who threatened to leave the association if she was admitted, the Observer said.
She became one of the best-known criminal defense attorneys in the nation's capital when in 1964 she won a not guilty verdict for African-American day laborer Ray Crump, who was accused of murdering Georgetown socialite Mary Pinchot Meyer, the Observer said.
Roundtree was recognized by many on social media, including the New York Times reporter who wrote her obituary.
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