Dovey Johnson Roundtree, a Washington criminal defense attorney who championed desegregation and who served as an inspiration for young black lawyers, died Monday in Charlotte, North Carolina, multiple outlets reports. She was 104.
She died from complications from Alzheimer’s, her cousin and law partner, Jerry L. Hunter told the Washington Post.
Roundtree often took on cases where she defended mostly Black clients during her near 50 years as a lawyer.
“As a woman, and as a woman of color in an age when black lawyers had to leave the courthouse to use the bathrooms, she dared to practice before the bar of justice and was unflinching,” Katie McCabe, the co-author of Ms. Roundtree’s memoir, Justice Older Than the Law told the New York Times. “She was a one-woman Legal Aid Society before people used that term.”
One of her most prominent cases involved a Black day laborer accused of killing a White woman, Mary Pinchot Meter, in 1964, who reportedly had an affair with President John F. Kennedy. She got him acquitted.
“I think in the black community there was a feeling that even if Crump was innocent, he was a dead duck,” she said in the 1998 book A Very Private Woman. “Even if he didn’t do it, he’s guilty. I took that as a personal challenge. I was caught up in civil rights, heart, body, and soul, but I felt law was one vehicle that would bring remedy.”
On top of her work defending predominantly poor African-Americans, she also took on landmark Civil Rights cases involving interstate desegregation.