Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / News / Headlines / Civil rights pioneer, defense lawyer dies at 104

Civil rights pioneer, defense lawyer dies at 104

Dovey Johnson Roundtree, who used her legal education to fight for the rights of marginalized people in North Carolina and elsewhere in the South, died May 21 in Charlotte. She was 104.

The National Visionary Leadership Project reports that Roundtree broke barriers as a civil rights attorney and while serving in the military.

She is most known for her role in successfully defending an African American private who was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in North Carolina. The case, Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, reversed the Interstate Commerce Commission’s policy of “separate but equal” in interstate busing.



The Charlotte Observer reported that Roundtree was born in Charlotte in April 1914. She graduated from Second Ward High School, before going on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Spelman College in Atlanta. She went on to earn a law degree and a divinity degree from Howard University in Washington.

After a brief stint teaching school, she was chosen to be one of the first black women to train as an officer in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.

Using her GI bill, she went on to attend Howard where she was one of only five women in her class.

In 1962, she became the first black member of the Women’s Bar Association of Washington D.C., where she practiced law, despite much opposition.

After many years of practicing law and becoming one of Washington’s best-known defense attorneys, Roundtree retired and moved back to Charlotte to be with family members.

She is survived by a goddaughter, Charlene Pritchett-Stevenson, and a cousin, Jerry Hunter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *