The Massachusetts-based lawyer was born in 1816 in Indiana. He grew up a free man, learning to read and write on his on his own and eventually landing his first a job as a schoolteacher. In the early 1840s, he moved to Portland, Maine where he befriended local anti-slavery leader General Samuel Fessenden — an American abolitionist and Massachusetts state legislator, who had recently begun a law practice, and hired Allen as a law clerk.
In 1844, Fessenden petitioned the Portland District court to allow Allen to practice as a lawyer. He was refused on the grounds that he was not a citizen, despite Maine’s law that anyone “of good moral character” could be admitted to the bar. So Allen applied for admission by examination.
After passing the exam was awarded his license to practice law on July 3, 1844. Finding work in Maine was difficult, though, as few were willing and hire Allen — and most whites were unwilling to have a black man represent them in court.
In 1845, Allen moved to Boston, went into business for himself, and in 1848 became Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County, Massachusetts. After the Civil War, he moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and in 1873 was appointed as a judge in the Inferior Court of Charleston; the following year he was elected judge probate for Charleston County, South Carolina. Following Reconstruction, Allen moved to Washington, DC, where he worked as an attorney for the Land and Improvement Association and practiced law until his death at age 78.
Words of Wisdom
This crisis of confidence in the judiciary is real and growing. Left unaddressed, the perception that justice is for sale will undermine the rule of law that the courts are supposed to uphold.