September 2011 President's Column
The Mecklenburg County Bar Turns 100
Robert C. Dortch, Jr.
The Mecklenburg County Bar (MCB) turns 100 years old in January 2012. Of course, there were lawyers in Mecklenburg County long before 1912, but that was the year the local Bar was organized. The MCB, like Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, has grown and changed significantly over the last 100 years. In 1912, there were about 60 members of the Mecklenburg County Bar; now there are more than 4,300. In 1912, the few African-American lawyers practicing in Mecklenburg County were not allowed to join the then voluntary MCB. One hundred years later, we have a Special Committee on Diversity and numerous affinity bars that reflect the ever-changing community we live in and the local Bar we belong to.
Any time you reach a 100 year milestone, there has to be a celebration. The Bar's 100th anniversary is no different. The Bar History Committee, co-chaired by Mark R. Bernstein and Ray S. Farris, is charged with, among other things, coordinating the process of archiving the MCB's history and celebrating the Bar's centennial. The Committee has worked hard during these difficult economic times to raise more than $124,000 that will be used to fund the writing and publication of The Mecklenburg County Bar: A Centennial History and the archival project. Thank you, Mark and Ray, for you and your Committee's hard work.
I think it's a good guess that The Mecklenburg County Bar: A Centennial History will include a mention or two of famous or noteworthy trials and court proceedings that took place in Mecklenburg County. I don't know if the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's brief stay in the Mecklenburg County jail in the mid-1980's will find its way into the History or whether Jim Bakker's late 1980's federal trial will grace the History's pages. (And for those of you who remember those fun-filled PTL days, I am not related to Mr. Bakker's associate, Richard Dortch.) It's probably a safe bet, however, that the History will mention Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, filed in 1965 by Julius Chambers. It is hard to describe succinctly the impact that Judge McMillan's April 1969 decision had on Mecklenburg County and the important part it played in our Bar's and community's history. I was in sixth grade at the time, attending a new elementary school with a lily-white student body. Court-ordered busing was going to be the new-normal and would start in the fall. My science teacher, Richard McElrath (an African-American) spent much of the remaining school year educating us about the court's order, the impact it would have on all families in the county and how there were far more similarities than differences with the kids from across town. It seems like we spent far more time talking about lawyers and judges than we did about science. And I remember much more about the court case and those busing related discussions than the science.
The Centennial celebration will be much more than printing a written history of the Bar. The Centennial Celebration Subcommittee, chaired by Hon. Shirley L. Fulton and Mark W. Merritt, is hard at work planning events and activities to celebrate our 100 years. Five task forces were formed to help with the planning: Events, chaired by John W. Lassiter; Exhibit, co-chaired by David W. Erdman and Eric Montgomery; Outreach, co-chaired by Hon. Albert Diaz and Henderson Hill; Community Service, co-chaired by Robert E. Henderson and Sally W. Higgins; and Finance, chaired by Mark W. Merritt. Again, thanks to all of you for your hard work and dedication to the Centennial.
One of the Centennial Subcommittee's goals is to educate the community about what we as lawyers and the Bar have done, and are doing, for the public good. An exhibit graphically depicting the history of the Bar at the Levine Museum of the New South and an educational lecture series are in the works. The Community Service Task Force has designated April 2012 as the MCB's Celebration of Community Service. Volunteer projects for MCB attorneys are being identified, many of which will have a legal nexus consistent with the Bar's mission "to serve the public and the Bar members in improving and preserving the administration of justice . . . ." There will be many networking and celebratory events during the Centennial, including a reception at the Levine Museum opening up the exhibit and a black-tie gala that will include dinner, dancing and a nationally recognized speaker.
It is an exciting time for our Bar. We're very fortunate to have so many members willing to volunteer their time (and in many cases their resources) to be part of the Bar History and Centennial Committees. They have contributed countless hours to plan the centennial activities and for that we are grateful. I encourage you to attend as many of the upcoming events as possible and when the volunteer opportunities arise, I hope that you, your colleagues and firms will enthusiastically participate. We look forward to celebrating with you in 2012.