Remembered for her civil rights activism and particularly for her legal work on the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, this attorney and judge was also the first woman of African descent to serve in the New York State Senate.
After attending both Fisk University and New York University, she earned a law degree from Columbia University.
In 2003, she received the NAACP's prestigious Spingarn Medal.
The daughter of Caribbean immigrant parents, she grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, with eleven siblings. She later married businessman and fellow New York University graduate Joel Wilson Motley, Jr.
She was appointed by United States President Lyndon B. Johnson to the U.S. District Court of New York's Southern District, making her the first female, African-American judge to preside over a federal court.