Book Talk To Highlight NC’s First African American Woman To Practice Law

SMITHFIELD – A path-breaking attorney and judge in Greensboro, NC, will be the topic of a book talk at the Johnston County Heritage Center in Smithfield on Thursday, September 29, at 7:00 pm. Historian Virginia L. Summey of Winston-Salem will discuss her book, The Life of Elreta Melton Alexander: Activism Within the Courts (University of Georgia Press, 2022).  

Elreta Melton Alexander Ralston (1919-1998), often called Judge A, was the first African American woman to graduate from Columbia Law School (1945), to practice law in North Carolina (1947), and to be elected as a district court judge (1968). She was born in Smithfield while her father was pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church, but most of her life and career were in Greensboro, NC.

Summey argues in her book that, while Judge Alexander did not march and demonstrate during the civil rights movement, she worked to change discriminatory laws and advocated for individuals who lacked a voice in the southern legal system. Her professional achievements opened doors for other minority women.

This event is open to the public and will be held in the Heritage Center’s Reading Room at 241 E. Market Street in Smithfield.

For more information, call 919-934-2836, or visit the Center’s website at, or Facebook page,  


    • Will definitely be reading her story! Yes, very classy and elegant. I hope Smithfield, Greensboro and NC as a whole is proud of what she accomplished. It doesn’t sound like she “tooted her own horn” but helped change the lives of many after her. I am sure there were challenging times for her – but won’t know until I read the book.

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