The Wolverine Bar Association was established by a number of African-American attorneys during the 1930’s. It was organized to coordinate the energies and talents of the increasing number of African-Americans admitted to practice throughout Michigan. From its inception, the Wolverine Bar Association assumed a leadership role in community and political activities. The role continues to be paramount in its endeavors today.
The roots of the Association are in the Harlan Law Club, which was founded in 1919 by several attorneys in the Detroit area who were excluded by local bar associations throughout the state. The club’s name was selected in recognition of the late United States Supreme Court Justice John M. Harlan. Justice Harlan was dedicated to the goal of equality of treatment under the law for all in our society. His philosophy was exemplified in the dissenting opinion of the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court Case of Plessy v. Ferguson. The Wolverine Bar Association replaced the Harlan Law Club and expanded its influence from Detroit to the entire “Wolverine” state.
It was the dissent in the Plessy case that espoused that the law should be made to protect the rights of all individuals and should be made applicable to all on an equal basis. The Wolverine Bar Association, like its predecessor the Harlan Law Club, is a powerful mechanism by which African-American attorneys in Michigan address the unique and distinct needs of their community for legal service, representation, and protection.
The goals and ideals of equality and dedication to the community have not significantly changed from those of the founders of the Harlan Law Club nearly 80 years ago. With many association members in judicial positions on the State and Federal bench and over 800 practicing attorneys statewide, the organization is continuing to meet the challenges and concerns of the present and future and renewed vigor and determination.
The mission of the Wolverine Bar Association is to be Detroit’s representative of the legal profession, serving the public and the profession by enhancing the legal system and promoting justice, professional excellence and respect for the law.
The Wolverine Bar Association seeks to promote equal justice and equal access under the law: