Black Law Student Association honors Cole
By Peter Williams
The Perquimans Weekly
Monday, March 25, 2019
On the 100th anniversary of the year the first women were admitted to Fordham Law School, Janice McKenzie Cole was one of those who have been honored for her contributions.
The Black Law Student Association honored 16 living alumnae, four future alumnae and three past alumnae. The ceremony was held Feb. 26.
“We were happy to honor her at our museum entitled ‘Lawyering Beyond the Shadows: Telling Her Stories,’” said Melissa Romain, the president of the Black Law Association at Fordham.
Cole started thinking about law as a child.
“When I was young, I talked a lot and people would always say I should become a lawyer,” Cole said last week. “Then I saw ‘12 Angry Men’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and that’s what got me thinking about becoming a trial attorney. It was what I wanted to do.”
Cole started working as a New York City street cop back when women didn’t do that. She took courses at night at John Jay College, from where she graduated.
She picked Fordham Law School because a fellow police officer was going there and said the program was good and they had an evening program.
Since graduating Fordham in 1979, Cole has tried to remain active with the university. Since she and her husband, Superior Court Judge J.C. Cole live in North Carolina, she hasn’t been able to attend events as much.
For that reason, Romain said they were pleased Cole could attend the February ceremony.
“It was so great,” Romain said. “We’re so happy she came knowing she’s coming from North Carolina. And we’re happy she’ll be back for the 40th anniversary of her graduation in May.”
Cole has broken a number of barriers in her life. She was the first woman, and the first black person elected as a District Court judge in the northeast region of North Carolina. A few years later, President Bill Clinton appointed her as the first black woman U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of North Carolina.
“Since we’re in the midst of the 100-year celebration, we thought it was important to highlight black women alumni and put into context the accomplishments they have made,” Romain said.
In a display at Fordham, Cole states “being a black woman attorney means that I have an opportunity to enrich this profession by my experiences, my perceptions and my sensibilities.”
In her final year of law school, Cole created the Ruth Whitehead Whaley Dinner, which has become an annual effort. Whaley, a native of North Carolina, graduated at the top of her class from Fordham in 1924. She went on to become one of the first three black women admitted to practice law in New York. In 1933 she became the first black woman to practice law in North Carolina. She maintained a private practice in New York until 1944.
One of the women honored by Fordham this school year was Geraldine Ferraro, class of 1960. She was inducted into the School’s Alumni of Distinction display, which celebrates graduates who have broken barriers in the legal profession. Ferraro, who passed away in 2011, was the first woman vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket and a lifelong advocate for women’s rights. She served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York’s 9th District, as secretary of the House Democratic Caucus, and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.