Prior to the late 1960s, black students graduated from law school at a rate of one every other year. These low numbers prompted Pittsburgh’s law schools, University of Pittsburgh School of Law and Duquesne University School of Law, to commit to increasing the number of black law students enrolled at their respective institutions. Due to the universities’ commitments, more than one dozen law students were admitted to the law schools in 1968.
Although there were fewer than 25 black attorneys practicing within the Pittsburgh region, several black law students solicited the advice of these attorneys in an effort to address the students’ success in law school and beyond. In 1969, the black law students met with these individuals in order to discuss the provision of meaningful assistance to black students who were pursuing their legal education.
Following their first and subsequent meetings, the black law school students and attorneys agreed that a formal organization was needed to formulate goals and objectives that would serve not only black lawyers and law school students, but the black community at large. Initially called The Black Lawyers of Western Pennsylvania, the organization subsequently renamed the organization after Pittsburgh’s first African American judge, Homer S. Brown, in honor of his stellar accomplishments and enormous contributions to the Pittsburgh legal community. The Homer S. Brown Law Association joined the Allegheny County Bar Association as a Division in 2011.
Oliver L. Johnson Scholarship
Among those challenged by black law school students to provide meaningful assistance to the students as they pursued their legal education was African American attorney Oliver L. Johnson. Johnson, along with sons Livingstone and Justin, accepted the students’ challenge and donated $1,000 in an effort to provide financial assistance to black law school students. The Johnsons’ contributions and efforts resulted in the Oliver L. Johnson Book Fund, which provided financial assistance to minority law school students beginning in the late 1960s.
In 2000, the Homer S. Brown Law Association established the Oliver L. Johnson Legal Education Fund. Administered by the POISE Foundation, an organization that seeks to develop and enhance the participation of African American philanthropists in the economic and social development of the black community of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, HSBD awards one or more scholarships each year through the Oliver L. Johnson Legal Education Fund. Scholarships are awarded to first or second year law students studying at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law or the Duquesne University School of Law who self-identify as Black or African American.