A Little Bar Association History

Linda A. Thompson

Article by Linda A. Thompson Featured Author


The CABA newsletter editor has asked me to write an article on the history of CABA and its predecessor association, the HCBA. About 20 years ago, I penned a brief history of the HCBA (published in the June 1996 newsletter). Now that we are approaching the bicentennial of our state and are in a year of all things historical, I've dug a bit further back in time and will go to modern HCBA/CABA days with a broad overview.

We hope that some of the young or old timers in our midst will share their recollections of the important programs or other specific contributions made by our Capital Area Bar Association and Hinds County Bar and worthy members through the years. We'll buy lunch if you have a story to share — or please submit your own article as a guest member of the CABA editorial staff.

The Capital Area Bar Association, Inc. was officially born on April 20, 2010, by amendment to the charter of the Hinds County Bar Association, Inc., a non-profit corporation formed in December 1981. The original incorporators were C. Delbert Hosemann, Jr., Lauch M. Magruder, Jr., and Richard T. Bennett.

In October of 1982, the first bimonthly HCBA newsletter was published (all the newsletters beginning with June 1989 are archived on the CABA website). Some older members recall there were a few newsletters printed and distributed in the 1960s. Earlier in the 20th century, notices of meetings and articles about activities appeared in the Jackson newspapers.

The HCBA hired its first executive director, Ben A. Davis, in 1982, under the leadership of HCBA president Lauch M. Magruder, Jr. The existing minutes of the organization date to this time. Ben Davis served as executive director through April 1989. On May 1, 1989, in time for the transition month of presidents Jay A. Travis, III, and Judith J. Johnson, Patricia H. Evans assumed the executive director position. Pat has now been executive director for 28 years.

Lawyers have been in this state and associated with one another since they came as pioneers to search for fame and fortune as practicing lawyers, territorial judges, and legislators. Mississippi became a state in December of 1817. Within four years the lawyers — largely centered in southwest Mississippi — founded what may have been the first state bar association in the United States.

The organizational meeting of the Bar of the State of Mississippi was held on May 26, 1821, in the courthouse in Natchez. At a December 1822 meeting of the new group, 38 lawyers signed as members of the Association. The minutes of the early State Bar Association end on June 18, 1825, however, and plans for a state organization lay dormant for another sixty years.

By January of 1823, the Mississippi legislature had established Hinds County from Choctaw lands and within it a site on a bluff above the Pearl River to be the county seat and state capital named for then Major General Andrew Jackson. Commissioners were charged with selecting a lot on which to build a "commodious house" for meetings of the legislature and a courthouse for the county's seat of justice. Civilization soon came to the fledgling town — including taverns and newspapers — and lawyers who began advertising their law offices in mid-1823.

The growth of the new city faltered between 1825 and 1830, however. Rankin County was carved out as half of Hinds in 1828, and a second county seat for Hinds was established at Raymond. Members of the House and Senate battled for several years about moving the state capital from Jackson, but efforts died out after 1830 when the lawmakers turned their attentions elsewhere.

Early newspapers evidence the presence of distinguished lawyers in Jackson as the town grew. Many, such as Henry S. Foote, John I. Guion, John J. McRae, William L. Sharkey, — the Yerger brothers, George, Jacob, and William, plus George's brother-in-law Charles Scott — Daniel W. Adams, Daniel Mayes, George L. Potter, Charles C. Mayson, and W. P. Harris, to name a few, lived and practiced in Jackson before achieving political stature as judges, governors, congressmen, and other important officials in the mid-19th century.

William McCain's The Story of Jackson (1953) has a wealth of information about early lawyers and firms in the capital city. Many of these men are now the permanent residents of Greenwood Cemetery, downtown Jackson's most beautiful greenspace, 22 acres known in the 19th century simply as the city cemetery.

As the 19th century progressed, newspaper accounts refer collectively to lawyers in Hinds County as "the Jackson bar" or "the Hinds County bar." In the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Library, there is a booklet called the Rules of the Chancery Court of Hinds County Prepared by a Committee of the Bar and Approved by Hon. John Watts, Judge Fourth District, published in 1857 and containing 40 rules.

Another pamphlet in the MDAH Library is Proceedings of the Jackson Bar and of the Supreme Court of the State of Mississippi on the Occasion of the Death of the Late Hon. William Yerger, printed in Jackson in 1872. The "members of the Jackson Bar" were asked to attend Justice Yerger's funeral as a body and wear the "customary badge of mourning" for 30 days.

It was after the Civil War and about the time of the country's patriotic celebration of the 1876 Centennial when the wave of lawyers forming their official organizations went through the country. The Association of the Bar of the City of New York claims to be the earliest local bar association, formed in 1870 as a volunteer organization of lawyers and law students. The earliest local bar association in Mississippi may have been the West Point Bar and Law Library Association, declared by the legislature an official association in the Laws of 1877.

The first national group to organize was the American Bar Association, founded in August 1878. One of its leading proponents was Simeon Baldwin of New Haven, a railroad lawyer, law professor, and member of the Connecticut Bar Association which had been formed in 1875. Prof. Baldwin persuaded a group of fourteen lawyers from twelve states (Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia) to meet at Saratoga Springs to discuss the feasibility and establish a national association of lawyers. Trust the lawyers to congregate at a posh upstate New York spa popular for its mineral springs and race track!

The founders declared their purpose in Article I of the American Bar Association's constitution. "Its object shall be to advance the science of jurisprudence, promote the administration of justice and uniformity of legislation throughout the Union, uphold the honor of the profession of the law, and encourage cordial intercourse among members of the American Bar."

Attorneys from various Mississippi towns held meetings throughout the state to reorganize the State Bar which had fallen dormant some 60 years earlier. This met with some joshing from the Jackson newspaper, the Mississippian, as an editor on December 8, 1885, noted:

"By all means let us have a Bar Association in Mississippi. At present the lawyers are at the mercy of the greedy and soulless clients, who are grinding the meek and lowly attorneys to the earth … There are some men who are mean enough to say that the clients are the ones who ought to form an association for mutual protection against attorneys, but unfounded slings like these are not worthy to be answered."

Despite the media's jabs, the Mississippi Bar was reorganized at a meeting in Jackson on January 4, 1886. It was to be another short-lived state-wide organization, however, as it held its last meeting in January 1892.

The lawyers did not give up, however, and on January 25, 1906, a meeting of lawyers and legislators was held in Jackson to organize a permanent bar association of Mississippi. About 300 lawyers from throughout the state met at the then very new Capitol building and organized the Mississippi State Bar Association, a voluntary organization to which an attorney could petition for membership. Jackson lawyer C. H. Alexander gave the welcoming address at the organizational meeting.

At about the same time, a Jackson Bar Association was formed. A meeting of the Association was called in the Jackson Daily News on April 7, 1907, the customary means for giving notice to the lawyer members. The stated purpose was to discuss the crowded state of the docket in the first judicial district of Hinds County and to ask the county legislators to support a new and smaller court district to be composed of only Hinds and Yazoo Counties and to lengthen the terms of court. Attorney Ben H. Wells presided over the meeting of the JBA.

Later, on October 27, 1907, the Jackson Daily News reported that the Jackson Bar Association was calling a meeting the next week to discuss the matter of making copies of all the county land records lodged in the Raymond courthouse. All Hinds County land records dating from 1821 to 1871 were kept in Raymond, meaning Jackson attorneys checking land titles often had to drive to Raymond, an undertaking they considered expensive and inconvenient. This copying project did not come to fruition, however.

According to the Jackson Daily News on March 27, 1908, the Jackson Bar Association had perfected its working organization in a recent meeting. The newspaper stated the city's Bar Association was the largest in the state, having about 70 active members, and was planning to send a large group to the annual meeting of the State Bar Association at Meridian in May. Judge R. H. Thompson, president, appointed the following JBA standing committees: Judicial Administration and Remedial Procedures, Membership, Grievances, Obituaries and Memorials, and Relations with American and State Bar Associations.

The Jackson Bar Association had meetings to set the docket for the terms of Hinds County Circuit Court, and the docket was announced in the newspaper. The JBA also voted to endorse certain candidates for supreme court judgeships. After Mississippi Supreme Court Justice S. S. Calhoon died in November 1908, the Jackson Bar Association gathered to give tributes to his life and character.

The grievances committee of the Jackson Bar Association was sometimes a busy one. According to the Jackson Daily News on January 22, 1909, the grievances committee gave charges of unprofessional conduct against an attorney in a hearing before Chancellor Garland Lyell in Hinds County Chancery Court. That was the process for dealing with bar complaints.

In April 1912, the Jackson Bar Association partnered with the Board of Trade to plan the program for a Mississippi State Bar Association meeting in Jackson the following month. The Jackson Daily News on April 20, 1912, referred to the State Bar Association as a "legal fraternity," while reporting that the meetings and a dance were scheduled at the Elks Club.

The Jackson Bar Association continued to be mentioned in an occasional newspaper article, and it is not clear when the Jackson Bar Association stopped functioning under that name. Through the years the JBA was customarily mentioned in obituaries to call its members as honorary pall bearers at a deceased lawyer's funeral.

On September 7, 1923, the Clarion-Ledger reported that the Hinds County Bar Association held a re-organization meeting to gather the attorneys from Jackson and Hinds County together and elect officers. J. N. Flowers was elected president over Fred Lotterhos. P. H. Eager, Jr. was elected vice president; F. M. West, secretary; D. C. Enochs, treasurer; and H. Cassidy Holden, member of the executive committee. Mrs. A. S. Yerger directed a music program for the event

The Hinds County Bar Association was featured in a Clarion-Ledger article on March 21, 1924, about its banquet held at the "ornate club dining room of the Hotel Edwards." Lawyer members of the legislature, numbering more than 70, were invited as special guests. The "fellowship feast" proceeded from cocktails to coffee and cigars and apparently was enjoyed by all. HCBA president J. N. Flowers presided at the banquet, and Secretary Fred M. West informed the crowd that there were about 100 lawyers in Hinds County, with slightly more than half belonging to the HCBA.

The Clarion-Ledger reported that on December 15, 1925, the HCBA held an annual banquet for its 120 members at the Hotel Edwards. According to the newspaper, a large number of ladies graced the occasion, where an excellent orchestra was engaged to play throughout the evening and sumptuous dinner. D. C. Enochs presided.

Other gatherings were held at the popular Hotel Edwards. Then on April 20, 1929, the HCBA banquet was staged at the recently formed gentlemen's club, the University Club, in its new quarters adjoining the Lamar Life building on Capitol Street. The University Club was housed above the popular Belmont Café which did the Club's catering under the direction of restaurateur Alex Misticos.

About 60 lawyers from throughout Hinds County attended the banquet. George Butler was chosen as HCBA president, and Lucy Somerville Howorth, vice president; Leonard J. Calhoun, secretary; and Charles S. Campbell, treasurer.

Incidentally, the HCBA leader and United States Commissioner (magistrate) for the Southern District of Mississippi, Lucy Somerville Howorth, was featured in a Clarion-Ledger article on January 25, 1931, headed "Mrs. Lucy Howorth, Jackson's Woman Lawyer, Says Feminine Career Does Not Destroy Home." She explained that if women "have happy occupations outside the home, they bring something rich and new to the family relationship. They are fresh, always interesting in the minds of their husbands, because they are growing with the public life around them, with the progress of the universe."

Daughter of Nellie Nugent Somerville, the first woman to be elected to the Mississippi Legislature, "Judge Lucy" graduated from Randolph-Macon Women's College and did graduate work at Columbia University. When World War I interrupted her studies, she found a job in aircraft production.

After the war, she came back to Mississippi and entered the University of Mississippi to take the law course, graduating summa cum laude. Afterward she practiced in her home town of Greenville and also Cleveland and then married Joseph Marion Howorth, a lawyer whom she had met at Ole Miss. Judge Lucy had a long and distinguished career of public service and died in 1997 at the age of 102. One can only imagine what she would have thought of today's women's issues.

A local or county bar association could become affiliated with the Mississippi State Bar Association upon vote of the local members and acceptance by the State Bar's executive committee. Each affiliated county bar association elected or appointed a representative to serve as "County Vice-President" of the state organization. In 1928, W. Calvin Wells of Jackson was County Vice-President for Hinds County. W. H. Powell of Canton represented Madison, and S. L. McLaurin of Brandon, Rankin County.

The Mississippi State Bar Association was initially an organization with voluntary membership. An attorney could petition for membership if endorsed by two members and approved by the Board of Directors. In 1930, there were only 200 members from the 1,200 lawyers practicing in Mississippi in those depression days.

In April 1930, the Mississippi State Bar Association met in Biloxi for its annual convention. The president of the American Bar Association, Henry Upton Sims of Birmingham, and the president of the Mississippi State Bar, Judge T. C. Kimbrough of Aberdeen, addressed the group. Consideration of the "unified bar plan" was urged by these national and state leaders.

In 1932, the Mississippi Legislature enacted the Unified Bar Act, authorizing the organization, regulation, and government of the Mississippi State Bar, the term "unified" meaning "mandatory." All lawyers practicing in Mississippi were required to be members of the State Bar, which was charged with its own regulation.

Each circuit judge appointed a lawyer residing in his district to the State Bar's newly formed Board of Bar Commissioners. Louis M. Jiggitts was the first Jackson lawyer chosen to represent the 7th District. The first annual meeting of the newly unified Mississippi State Bar was held in Jackson on September 1 and 2, 1932.

At the time of the formation of the unified Mississippi State Bar, Circuit Judge Leon F. Hendrick was president of the HCBA. He later recalled that the HCBA adopted a new constitution and bylaws when he was president in 1932-33.

In 1970-71, HCBA President Robert C. Cannada formed an Archives and History Committee to research the history of the Hinds County Bar. Martha Gerald was the first committee chairperson, and Richard T. Bennett, E. Clifton Hodge, Jr., Shirley Norwood Jones, Roland D. Marble, J. A. Travis, III, and Calvin L. Wells served with her. Shirley Norwood Jones was committee chairperson in 1972.

This Archives and History Committee determined that there were no extant minutes of past HCBA meetings. They compiled a list of HCBA presidents beginning in 1932 and recommended the HCBA give each living past president a commemorative plaque at the April 1971 meeting. That was the beginning of the tradition of presenting each retiring president with an appropriate plaque recognizing his or her service to the HCBA.

The Archives and History Committee solicited historical information about the HCBA from its living past presidents, writing each one to request a summary of accomplishments from his term of office. The letters received in return contain mostly modest responses with few historical facts of consequence.

With digital archives of newspapers now available online, it should be possible to fill in some more blanks of information about HCBA activities of past decades. Additionally, the CABA editorial board hopes that some of the HCBA/CABA members will comment on this article with recollections of significant work or perhaps simply humorous accounts of the activities of past HCBA/CABA committees or Board members.