Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Pioneer Female African American Lawyer Ruth Whitehead Whaley to be Recognized with Highway Historical Marker

May 18, 2022

A groundbreaking African American attorney born in Goldsboro soon will have a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker in town.

The marker recognizing Ruth Whitehead Whaley will be dedicated near the corner of Ash and John streets during a ceremony on May 25 at 4 p.m., in her hometown. Additional information about the marker can be found at

Born in 1901, Whaley attended school in Goldsboro where both her parents taught. After graduating from high school and then from Livingstone College in Salisbury, she married Herman Whaley in 1920. He encouraged his wife to enroll in law school at Fordham University in New York, becoming the first African American woman to study law at the institution.

Whaley passed the bar exam in 1925 and became one of the first African American women to practice law in New York. She returned to Goldsboro in 1933 where, with the support of family friend and local attorney Hugh Dortch, she was granted a license to practice law in North Carolina, making her the first African American woman licensed in the state.

Whaley spent her early career in private practice in New York where she was an expert in civil service law and won several landmark cases. Whaley regularly represented African American government employees, including in one case, her husband. Whaley maintained her private practice in New York until 1944 when she turned to politics.

In 1945, Whaley ran for a New York City Council seat as one of the first Black women ever nominated by a major political party in the United States. From 1951-73, Whaley served as secretary of the New York City Board of Estimate, assisting in municipal policy, including city budget, land use, contracts, franchises, and water rates.

She died December 23, 1977, and was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Yonkers, New York.

The N.C. Highway Historical Marker Program is within the Office of Archives and History and administered by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The Highway Marker Program is a collaboration between the N.C. Departments of Natural and Cultural Resources and Transportation. For more information, please visit or contact Ansley Wegner at

About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state's natural and cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. NCDNCR's mission is to improve the quality of life in our state by creating opportunities to experience excellence in the arts, history, libraries and nature in North Carolina by stimulating learning, inspiring creativity, preserving the state's history, conserving the state's natural heritage, encouraging recreation and cultural tourism, and promoting economic development.

NCDNCR includes 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, three science museums, three aquariums and Jennette's Pier, 41 state parks and recreation areas, the N.C. Zoo, the N.C. Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, the African American Heritage Commission, State Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology, and the Division of Land and Water Stewardship. For more information, please visit

Related Topics: