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The Legacy Of Jesse James McCrary, The First Black Attorney On The Dade County School Board

Jesse James McCrary


Jesse James McCrary, Florida Secretary of State from 1978 to 1979, was born in Blichton, Florida, on September 16, 1937. McCrary attended Howard Academy, an African American school in Ocala, where he was the quarterback on the school’s championship football team during his high school years. During Reconstruction, the Freedmen’s Bureau established the school, which was named after abolitionist Union General O.O. Howard.

From 1956 to 1960, McCrary attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), where he excelled. He belonged to the debate team, the drama club, and was an ROTC cadet. McCrary was a civil rights activist who organized sit-ins in Tallahassee while studying political science. He served in the Military Intelligence Corps before graduating from FAMU. McCrary said he became interested in law while on the FAMU honor court. McCrary decided to attend law school and received his Juris Doctorate from the FAMU College of Law in 1965.

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McCrary’s abilities were recognized by Florida State Attorney General Earl Faircloth, who appointed him as an assistant attorney general in 1967. He was assigned to Miami and worked there for several years. McCrary made history in 1970 when, as an assistant attorney general, he became the first Black lawyer to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of a Southern state. Williams v. State of Florida was the case he won. McCrary joined the law firm McCrary, Ferguson, and Leethrough the same year.


McCrary was an outspoken advocate for poor African Americans and a supporter of racial integration. He was an active member of the public sector, serving on numerous influential committees such as the Capital Punishment Study Commission, the Constitution Revision Commission, and the Commission on Judicial Reform.

He was also the first Black attorney on the Dade County School Board, and Governor Reubin Askew appointed him to a Florida Industrial Commission judgeship. McCrary was Florida’s highest-paid Black official at the time he was appointed to that position. McCrary was appointed head of a commission formed in 1971 to investigate riots in Opa-Locka’s black communities.

For the next five years, McCrary worked as a partner in the law firm McCrary, Berkowitz, and David. Governor Askew appointed him Secretary of State in 1978, a position he held until 1979. Justice Joseph Hatchett, the only African American on Florida’s Supreme Court, swore him in. McCrary’s appointment as Secretary of State was always intended to be temporary, as he was filling the term of Bruce Smathers, who had resigned to run for governor of Florida.


Written by How Africa News

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