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This is the first systematic study of the career patterns of Negro lawyers in the South. Two main hypotheses have guided the collection and analysis of data. The first, proposed by Gunnar Myrdal, states that all Negro professionals are "imprisoned" in the Negro problem. The second hypothesis, proposed by William Peters, holds that leadership in the Negro community is shifting from ministers toward lawyers.

In order to test these hypotheses data from four main sources were collected:

  1. a thorough review of pertinent literature,
  2. personal interviews with all twenty Negro lawyers practicing in New Orleans,
  3. interviews with selected white lawyers, court officials, and law school deans in Louisiana, and
  4. interviews with selected race relations leaders.

Negro lawyers in New Orleans are recruited from all socio-economic segments. Upon close observation we see that they come from homes in which at least one parent was ambitious with regard to their schooling and occupational achievements. They are dedicated to their profession and, as Myrdal suggested, manifest a strong identification with the Negro's struggle for equal civil rights.

Practically all of their clients are Negroes, and even these must be acquired in competition with white lawyers. They have little contact with their white colleagues because opportunities for informal contacts are limited by law and tradition, and they are not invited to participate in formal programs sponsored by the state and local bar associations. In order to promote their own professional growth, they belong to the segregated Martinet Society.

All of the lawyers are active in Negro "uplift" organizations to which they are making important contributions. They are not, however, replacing Negro ministers as leaders of the Negro masses, as Peters hypothesized. Rather, they tend to extend the influence of the ministers by adding a sense of realism and practicality to the Negro's struggle to attain equal civil rights.