The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School did not give its first Black female graduate a particularly warm welcome when she was a student. The legacy of Dr. Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Ed’1918, G’1921, L’1927, Hon’1974 nevertheless runs deep at the Law School, in part because of the generosity she displayed towards her alma mater. In her will, Alexander bequeathed $100,000 to support the establishment of a civil rights chair, and in 2012, Dorothy E. Roberts, an acclaimed scholar of race, gender, and the law, was named the inaugural Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights.
“For me to hold a chair named after a pioneer for human rights, and civil rights, and racial justice, given how important social justice is to my own work, is very, very meaningful,” Roberts said. “I certainly see her as an inspiration and a role model.”
Roberts, who joined the University of Pennsylvania as its 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) Professor with joint appointments in the Departments of Africana Studies and Sociology, reflected that “if you think about it, Sadie Alexander saw the value of interdisciplinary work in the 1920s, long before law schools had become interdisciplinary places of learning. She was so far ahead of her time in terms of her academic achievements, and perspectives as well.”
Students continue to honor Alexander as well. Every year since 1989, the Law School’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA) has sponsored the annual Sadie T.M. Alexander Commemorative Conference. Featuring seminars, panel discussions, career fairs, workshops, and speakers, conference themes have included reparations, civil rights, and applications of the 14th Amendment.
Most recently, in 2021, the Law School created three full-tuition scholarships named for Alexander at BLSA’s suggestion. The scholarships are part of the Law School’s broader effort to build a more inclusive educational environment while working to dismantle the nation’s legacy of racial and economic injustice.