Everett J. Waring Was Maryland’s First African-American AttorneyBlack History Month was created to celebrate the history and contributions of the African diaspora and their ancestors. One of those ancestors is Everett J. Waring, the first African-American lawyer admitted to practice in Maryland. He was also the first Black lawyer to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court of the United States.

While being the first of anything is an honor, being the first African-American to do something in Maryland is particularly special: while it never seceded, Maryland was a slave state, and an estimated 20,000 Marylanders actually fought for the Confederacy. There was even a section in the Maryland Constitution that explicitly barred Black lawyers from practicing in the courts. Being the first Black lawyer, therefore, really is an extraordinary accomplishment.

Who is Everett J. Waring?

Waring was born in Ohio to Malvina and James Everett; he was one of five children. Like his father, Everett Waring off as a teacher and then a principal of a segregated school in Columbus; when Ohio’s schools integrated, he found himself in need of employment. According to the State of Maryland’s online archives, Waring “was able to secure an appointment to the Department of the Interior in Washington D.C.,” and pursued his law degree at Howard University.

Waring made history because he was willing to move to Maryland. Per the Archives:

This law [barring Black lawyers from practicing] had been challenged unsuccessfully several times since 1864 on the grounds that it violated the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution; a breakthrough came on March 19, 1885. Sponsored by the Mutual Brotherhood of Liberty, a lawyer named Charles S. Wilson applied for admission to the bar of the Baltimore City Superior Court. The court rendered an unprecedented, unanimous decision that “color alone would never bar a person from receiving justice within its limit and jurisdiction.” The judges decided that Wilson was not fully qualified for admission, but the way was clear for one who was: enter Everett J. Waring.

…. On October 10, 1885, Waring [moved to Baltimore], becoming the first African American lawyer admitted to the bar of the Maryland courts. Several others followed immediately in his wake, and the flow has continued steadily to the present day. Waring later applied to the Maryland State Court of Appeals in Annapolis, and was admitted on April 17, 1888.

About Jones v. United States

Waring represented the Brotherhood of Liberty (a kind of precursor to the NAACP) in multiple cases, but the case that made him famous in his day was Jones vs. United States – a case that Waring lost.

In 1865, the Navassa Phosphate Company of Baltimore started mining guano on Navassa Island. It was hard work and the conditions were deplorable, and in 1889 the workers rioted. Henry Jones was one of eighteen workers who faced murder charges stemming from that riot. Those trials were held in Baltimore, because the company was based there and the workers came from Maryland.

Waring and the rest of the defense team tried to argue that the U.S. had no jurisdiction over Navassa Island (located in the Caribbean), and that the men should not be found guilty because they were acting in self-defense. The Supreme Court heard the case in 1890 and ruled against Jones and his fellow defendants.

Note: President Benjamin Harrison commuted the sentences of the men from death to life in prison; he even mentioned the case in his State of the Union Address that year.

Everett J. Waring lived in Maryland for more than decade, practicing law. He also tried his hand at real estate and banking – ventures that failed in significant enough ways that he eventually faced criminal charges for them. He and his wife moved to Pennsylvania, where they are both interred.

Waring’s legacy may be “uneven,” to say the least, but being the first is never easy. And as the first Black lawyer admitted to practice in Maryland, he paved the way for Black and African-American lawyers and judges throughout the state and changed the course of Maryland’s history.

Carey Law Office maintains offices in Bowie and Dunkirk, Calvert County. We provide comprehensive counsel to people in Maryland facing criminal charges of any kind. Call or contact us today to learn more.