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Raymond Pace Alexander W’1920

March 18, 2022

Alexander founded the first Black law firm in Philadelphia and was a prominent civil rights leader.

Husband of Dr. Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Ed’1918, G’1921, L’1927, Hon’1974, the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, Raymond Alexander W’1920 graduated from the Wharton School with a degree in economics in 1920. He went on to earn a law degree from Harvard, where he was the only Black person in his graduating class. Born to a large, working-class family in Philadelphia, Alexander began working at the age of seven, shortly after his mother’s death. He attended Penn on scholarship.

After Harvard, Alexander returned to Philadelphia to practice law. Despite his influential contacts and stellar letters of recommendation, he was one of just 25 Black attorneys in the city at the time, and he initially struggled to find work. Alexander eventually established his own firm and hired his wife. Together, they served as advocates in many important civil cases involving issues of racial discrimination and segregation in places of public accommodation. Alexander represented criminal defendants in a number of cases that implicated racial or civil rights issues. He also served as an advisor on the landmark desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

In 1951, Alexander was elected to Philadelphia’s City Council. As a council member, he chaired the Committee on Recreation and the Committee on Public Property and Public Works. In 1959, he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Court of Common Pleas, and was subsequently elected to a full 10-year term, becoming the first Black judge on the court. During his first month as judge, Alexander created an alternative probation program called the Spiritual Rehabilitation Program, which combined social work with the mutual aid traditions of Black communities and religious organizations. He was involved in the civil rights struggle until the day he died at his desk in 1974.

Alexander’s portrait hangs alongside one of his wife, Dr. Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Ed’1918, G’1921, L’1927, Hon’1974.

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