Charles S. Darden, Esq.

The second of Charles H. and Dinah Scarborough Darden’s sons, Charles Sylvester Darden made his mark far from home — in Los Angeles, California.  Though he largely eluded the decennial censuses, the trajectory of Darden’s career as a hard-charging attorney can be glimpsed in contemporary newspapers and other documents.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Charles Darden, 26; wife Diana, 21; and children John, 3, Annie, 2, and Charlie, 9 months.

Charles Darden received an undergraduate degree at Howard University and graduated from its law school in 1904.

The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 31 May 1904.

In short order, Darden headed West and in 1906 passed the examination for admission to the California bar. He was one of the first licensed African-American lawyers in the state.

The anomaly of Darden’s position early caught the attention of the local press, and in 1907 this mocking piece appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles Times, 25 December 1907.

Within his community, however, Darden was taken seriously. In May 1908, his place in the political life of black Los Angeles was signaled by his inclusion among leaders calling for a protest against Republican presidential nominee William H. Taft for his recommendation that President Theodore Roosevelt dismiss black soldiers blamed for murder in the Brownsville Affair.


Los Angeles Herald, 31 May 1908.

That same year, Darden was instrumental in organizing a Howard University alumni association in Los Angeles. The Times covered the group’s annual banquet in 1909.

Los Angeles Times, 11 February 1909.

By 1911, Darden had entered the arena in which he had the greatest impact — real estate development and litigation. That year, as the first black lawyer to argue before the California Supreme Court, Darden attacked racially restrictive covenants

By 1913, he and ten others incorporated the Co-operative Commercial Investment Company.

Los Angeles Times, 27 November 1913.

He also was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States in 1913.

Journal of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 1915, black police officer Homer L. Garrott purchased a home in the Angeles Park subdivision of Los Angeles. Angeles Park lots were covered by a restrictive covenant prohibiting sales to black, Japanese and Chinese buyers, and the Title Guarantee Company sued to enforce it. Charles S. Darden stepped up to defend Garrott. A Superior Court judge ruled in Garrott’s favor, striking down race restrictions as null and void. Angeles Park and the title company appealed, and the case reached the California State Supreme Court in 1919. The ruling was affirmed, but bizarrely undercut by the court’s decision in another case upholding the validity of occupancy clauses. (For more re Garrott, see Douglas Flamming, Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America (2005)).

As the United States entered World War I, Darden got involved in protests over the forced retirement of African-American Colonel Charles Young in the wake of resistance by white officers balking at being outranked by a black man. In a letter to Dean Kelly Miller of Howard University, Darden also championed of the causes of Captain Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and a Captain Green, who had also been effectively sidelined.

Kansas City Sun, 21 July 1917.

Two months later, Darden wrote directly to the Secretary of the War Department, complaining that the applications of well-qualified young African-American men were being turned down “because of their color.” The response was terse and not entirely to the point: “At the present time no colored squadrons are being formed and applications from colored men for this branch of service cannot be considered for that reason.”

Letter from Secretary of War to Charles S. Darden, 11 August 1917; W.E.B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312); Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

In 1918, Charles Sylvester Darden registered for the World War I draft in Los Angeles. Per his registration card, he was born 10 August 1879 in Wilson, North Carolina; resided at 224 South Spring, Los Angeles; was a self-employed lawyer at 407 Germain, Los Angeles; was 5’4″ and of medium build; and his nearest relative was Charles H. Darden, 110 Pender Street, Wilson, North Carolina.

“Incorporations,” Southwest Builder and Contractor, volume 57, number 11 (18 March 1921).

The beach at Santa Monica’s Bay Street, popular with African-Americans in the early 20th century, was derogatorily called “The Inkwell”. While they appreciated the access to the Pacific Ocean that the beach represented, local African-American leaders also wanted an end to all efforts to inhibit their freedom to use all public beaches. In 1922, the Santa Monica Bay Protective League attempted to purge African Americans from the city’’s shoreline by blocking an effort by the Ocean Frontage Syndicate, an African American investment group led by Norman O. Houston and Charles S. Darden, to develop a resort with beach access at the base of Pico Boulevard. Santa Monica officials quickly enacted zoning laws to deny the Ocean Frontage Syndicate beach front property, changing such regulations once whites bought the land and made similar development proposals.

In 1940, Darden partnered with two African-American doctors to form the Los Angeles Negro Professional Men’s Athletic Club, a venue for boxing matches, ball games, dances and other affairs.

Pittsburgh Courier, 29 June 1940.

A whiff of scandal touched Darden in 1940, but failed to gain traction. He was held blameless in a fatal automobile accident on Anaheim’s Santa Ana Canyon Road. Darden apparently never married, and the paper was careful to note that his female companion was white.

Santa Ana Register, 27 August 1940.

In 1942, Charles S. Darden registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 10 August 1879 in Wilson, North Carolina; he resided at 1802 Central, Los Angeles; his phone number was PR 3750; he was employed as an attorney at 1802 Central; and his contact was C.L. Darden, Wilson, North Carolina.

Charles S. Darden died in March 1954 in Los Angeles.

The Daily Press (Newport News, Va.), 17 March 1954.

Photograph of Dardens courtesy of N.J. and C. Darden, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine; J. Clay Smith Jr., Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer 1844-1944 (1993).

Herbert Reid, Harvard Law, Class of ’45.

More on Herbert O. Reid, Wilson-born scholar and civil rights attorney.


IN THE FIELD of constitutional law and in the protection of civil rights, Herbert O. Reid, who died on Friday at the age of 75, stood out. Because of Dr. Reid, a brilliant professor and former acting dean of the Howard University Law School, thousands of men and women across the country share a common vision of the majesty of the Constitution and the workability of America.

Except for his first year as a Howard Law School professor in 1947, when he said he learned more from his students than he taught them, Herb Reid had a major hand in producing a host of this country’s most distinguished lawyers, public officials and judges. Many served with him during the decades of the 1950s and 1960s as legal guardians of the civil rights movement. But unlike many legal scholars, Dr. Reid was as comfortable in the courtroom and in the backroom of politics as he was in the classroom. Everywhere he landed, he became a pivotal figure. He took on the exclusion of New York Rep. Adam Clayton Powell from the House of Representatives in 1967 and won a U.S. Supreme Court victory two years later. School segregation in America fell before him and a handful of lawyers from the Howard Law School faculty and the NAACP who participated in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education and the companion desegregation cases for the District of Columbia. They carried the day in court, in part, because of the preparation and the dry runs that took place under Herb Reid’s drilling in the basement of the law school.

Dr. Reid was always on call for rescue operations. Sixteen years ago, when the board of education was mired down in the firing of yet another school superintendent, it was he who took on the excruciatingly difficult role of hearing officer and, with a degree of incisiveness and dignity, helped end that long ordeal for the city. It was that sense of duty to the city and his friends from the movement that led Dr. Reid to serve as former mayor Marion Barry’s personal counsel and then as a member of that administration. Without Herb Reid’s being there, friends say, it could have been even worse.

A graduate of Harvard law school himself, Dr. Reid frequently spoke lovingly and longingly about the “golden age” of the Howard Law School — the period in the 1940s and early 1950s, when distinguished faculty worked with students and other lawyers on the major civil rights issues of the time. Herbert Reid was a central part of it all.

Washington Post, 17 June 1991.


On 16 October 1940, Reid registered for the World War II draft at the Harvard University precinct in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


New York Age, 8 December 1945.


New York Age, 12 July 1947.

U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, [database on-line],

Who was S.A. Smith?



This surprising entry appears in the 1896 edition of Branson’s North Carolina Business Directory. It is by far the earliest reference to an African-American lawyer in the town of Wilson. In an article in the 27 June 1894 of the Wilson Mirror concerning a meeting of the county’s Republicans to elect delegates to the Second Congressional District Convention. John Renfrow chaired the meeting, W.H. Vick was elected secretary pro tem, B.R. Winstead was elected chairman, and S.A. Smith, secretary. Delegates were Winstead and Gray Newsome.

The same year that the city directory named Smith as a lawyer, the Wilson Times announced his selection as principal of the Colored Graded School, replacing his political ally Winstead.

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Wilson Times, 29 May 1896.

A year later, on 27 May 1897, the widowed Mary Jane Bass Taylor married Sandy Henderson. Missionary Baptist Minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony at Saint John A.M.E. Zion church, and the official witnesses were S.A. Smith, Charles H. Darden and Wyatt Studaway.

Smith also edited the first, and perhaps only, African-American newspaper published in Wilson, the Blade. One known edition, from 20 November 1897, survives. Under “Church Directory,” Smith is named as a superintendent of Saint John A.M.E. Zion.

seq-1 copy

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: iron foundry worker Samuel Smith, 28, his wife Anna, 19, and brother Simeon, 23, school teacher.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: school teacher Simeon A. Smith, born 1849; his wife Minnie E., born 1865, also a teacher; and their son [sic] Georgie, 3, all natives of North Carolina. The family was listed in close proximity to Wyatt Studaway, John Gaston, and Sandy Henderson, and probably lived on Manchester Street. They left Wilson soon after.

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Walsh’s Winston-Salem City Directory for 1904-05.

By 1904, Smith had been appointed principal of Winston-Salem’s Colored Graded School, and his wife Minnie had also secured a position. The school on Depot Street was described as “the largest and most important public school for African-Americans in the state.”

In the 1910 census of Winston-Salem, Forsyth County: at 518 Seventh Street, Simeon A. Smith, 49, wife Minnie E., 45, and daughter Georgie V. Smith, 13. Simeon was described as a professor at a graded school, and Minnie as teacher.

Minnie E. Smith died 16 September 1933 in Winston-Salem at the age of 56. Her occupation was school teacher, and she was described as a widow. The birthplaces of her parents, Will and Amie Joyner, is described only as “N.C.,” but the surname suggests Wilson County. Daughter Georgie V. Reid was informant.

I have not found Simeon Smith in early censuses, university records, marriage records or death records.

Colored lawyer.


Wilson Daily Times, 25 November 1921.


Glenn S. McBrayer was born about 1884, probably in South Carolina, to Randall and Sylvia McBrayer. He was reared near Shelby, in western North Carolina, and appears in Cleveland County in the 1900 census. Ten years later, he was listed as a 23 year-old farm laborer, but he was soon to make life-changing moves. Sometime during the decade he obtained a degree from Howard University. In January 1917, he married Lillie Brown in Zebulon, Nash County. Shortly after, he passed the North Carolina bar.

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The Crisis, April 1917, page 293.

In 1920, however, the McBrayers were in Wilson, and, according to the census,  Glenn was working a retail grocery merchant. Sometime during the next year, he hung out his shingle and got himself elected corresponding secretary of the Negro State Bar Association. In the 1922 Wilson city directory, his occupation is clearly noted:

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He appears in Wilson directories throughout the 1920s, but seems to have left Wilson after 1930. In 1934, Glenn and Lillian McBrayer are listed in the city directory of Buffalo, New York. His occupation is given as salesman.

The obituary of Herbert O. Reid Sr., civil rights attorney.

“Herbert O. Reid Sr., Key Adviser to Barry, Dies”

Herbert O. Reid Sr., 75, legal counsel and key adviser to former D.C. mayor Marion Barry and a former acting dean and constitutional law professor at Howard University law school, died of cancer yesterday at George Washington University Hospital.

Reid also was a leading civil rights lawyer who participated in several landmark cases that helped dismantle racial segregation in public facilities. Those included the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case in which the Supreme Court declared segregation in the nation’s public schools to be unconstitutional.

He helped argue then-Rep. Adam Clayton Powell’s case against his 1967 exclusion from the House of Representatives, winning a 1969 ruling from the Supreme Court that the barring of the Harlem Democrat from the House was unconstitutional because he met all legal requirements for the post and had been duly elected.

But in recent years, Reid was best known as a major player in the Barry administration and the mayor’s foremost personal troubleshooter. The two men met during the 1965 civil rights demonstrations in Selma, Ala., and they became close friends when Barry came to Washington as an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee soon after.

“I guess it’s a son-teacher relationship,” Reid once said. “The one thing that’s always been very exciting about Marion is that he’s interesting. We share a tremendous enthusiasm that life can get better . . . . Marion was one of the few young civil rights activists who had some tolerance for the advice of those over 40.”

As an influential figure in Barry’s inner circle, Reid served as point man for the mayor in several sensitive areas. He was acting corporation counsel from 1989 until Barry’s final term as mayor ended in January.

As the mayor’s personal counsel, he looked after Barry’s interests during investigations that led to the convictions of high-ranking and mid-level D.C. government employees, including former deputy mayor Ivanhoe Donaldson, of crimes related to their official duties.

In this role Reid often clashed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, angrily accusing prosecutors of leaking to the news media information derogatory to the mayor. But he did not represent the mayor in his trial last summer on drug charges. That defense was handled by R. Kenneth Mundy.

Yesterday, Barry described Reid as “a brilliant lawyer and an unsung hero of the civil rights and human rights movement. This community and a lot of us who were close to Herb will miss him.”

Reid, who lived in Washington, was born in Wilson, N.C., and graduated from Howard University. He served in the Army during World War II and received a law degree from Harvard University law school. He joined the law faculty at Howard in 1947, and held an endowed chair there as the Charles Hamilton Houston distinguished professor of law. He was acting dean of the law school from 1972 to 1974. He retired from the Howard faculty in 1988.

His years at Howard covered a period in which top black law students came to be aggressively recruited by the nation’s prestigious mainstream law schools, which previously had been cool toward the admission of minorities and women. He was acting dean during a time of student protests and a boycott that followed an increase in failing grades. In the face of this development, Reid insisted that Howard should continue to maintain high academic standards, despite the loss of some top-ranking students who might otherwise have enrolled at Howard.

In the late 1950s, one of his law students at Howard was a young Army veteran of the Korean War from Richmond named L. Douglas Wilder, now governor of Virginia. Once, when Wilder showed up for class hung over from a night on the town, Reid called him aside.

“You’ve got a good mind, but I’m going to fail your little ass,” the professor said. “You’re lazy, you’re not productive, and you’re not going to cut it.”

Thereafter, Wilder buckled down and passed all his courses, including Reid’s.

While on the Howard faculty, Reid also was special counsel for the NAACP. In this capacity he took on a variety of civil rights cases that included defending the rights of poor tenants to improve their living conditions through rent strikes and the defense of seven persons arrested in a 1966 White House sit-in to protest racial injustices in Selma. He served on a private commission that investigated relations between the nation’s police departments and the Black Panther Party during the early 1970s.

Reid also served on the board of trustees of the University of the District of Columbia. In this role he undertook the defense in 1985 of then-UDC President Robert L. Green, who was under fire for misuse of university funds for travel, consulting and sending flowers to personal friends. Green eventually resigned.

Reid’s marriage to Ann Thompson Reid ended in divorce.

Survivors include his companion, M.L. Carstarphen, and a daughter, Carlene Reid Funn, both of Washington; and a grandchild. A son, Herbert O. Reid Jr., died last month.

Washington Post, 15 June 1991.


“Herbert O. Reid Sr., 75, Lawyer Who Taught Many Black Leaders”

Herbert O. Reid Sr., a prominent civil rights lawyer and a longtime adviser to former Mayor of Washington, Marion S. Barry Jr., died of prostate cancer on Friday at his home in Washington. He was 75 years old.

Mr. Reid, who served on the faculty of the Howard University School of Law for 41 years, also taught many of today’s black leaders, including the Governor of Virginia, L. Douglas Wilder, and the current Mayor of Washington, Sharon Pratt Dixon.

“He served the longest on the faculty of any professor in the history of this school,” said J. Clay Smith Jr., the dean of the Howard law school and a former student of Mr. Reid. Major Desegregation Rulings

Mr. Reid was a participant in several legal cases that led to major Supreme Court desegregation rulings, including Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which ended the practice of segregation in public school systems.

In the late 1960’s, he assisted in the defense of members of the the Chicago Seven against contempt of court charges and in former New York Representative Adam Clayton Powell’s legal battle to regain his seat in Congress.

In recent years, Mr. Reid was best known as a high-level adviser and mentor for Mr. Barry. The two met at a civil rights march on Selma, Ala., in 1965.

Mr. Reid became the district’s acting corporation counsel from 1989 until Mr. Barry left office in January. He did not represent Mr. Barry in his trial on drug charges last summer, but he did act as the mayor’s counsel during previous inquiries into municipal wrongdoing. He was a frequent critic of the United States Attorney’s office, which he accused of leaking derogatory information about the mayor to the news media. Served Without Fanfare

“I treasured Dr. Reid,” Mr. Barry said in a statement released yesterday. “He was a warm, giving, sharing human being who served people without fanfare or asking for accolades. And even in serious situations, he had a sense of humor.”

Mr. Reid was born in Wilson, N.C. He was an honors graduate of Howard University in 1940 and completed his legal studies at Harvard University School of Law. In 1945, after serving in World War II with an all-black New York National Guard regiment and fighting in Okinawa, he became the first black clerk at the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

Mr. Reid joined the Howard University School of Law faculty in 1947 and served as acting dean from 1972 to 1974. He retired from there in 1988. He also served as a special counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and on the Board of Trustees for the University of the District of Columbia.

His marriage to Ann Thompson Reid ended in divorce. His son, Herbert O. Reid Jr., also a lawyer, died last month. He is survived by his companion Mary L. Carstarphen, a lawyer; a sister, Thelma Reid Whitehead; a daughter, Carlene Reid Funn and a grandchild, all of Washington.

New York Times, 16 June 1991.

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Photo, Jet magazine, 22 October 1990.


In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Judge D. Reid, 47, wife Elenora P., 41, and children Bruce P., 17, James D., 15, Thelma R., 11, Carl F., 7, and Herbert O., 4.