Law school wasn’t a pleasant memory for alumna Pamela Coveney, but a group of students who honored her recently helped her walk away from the Delaware campus with a new, positive vision of her alma mater.Coveney ’79, an attorney with the Disability Law Center in Boston, was one of the first African-American graduates of the School of Law. She and 1977 law graduate Vivienne Crawford were recognized at the “Pioneers and Trailblazers” awards banquet held in the Barristers’ Club Thursday, Feb. 24.
The dinner was organized by the Black Law Students Association as part of its Black History Month celebrations. The association researched the history of African-American students, extended invitations and welcomed the two women back to the place they knew as Delaware Law School.
“We’re happy and humbled to have you here and sincerely thank you for allowing us the opportunity to show you our appreciation for blazing the trail so that we may have the opportunity to attend this fine institution,” association President Asmahan Akam said.
Coveney told the students a few short stories that demonstrated the challenges she faced – including a professor who refused to allow her to benefit from a grading curve that helped all the other students in one of her law classes. That treatment cost her an A. She had tried to forget her law school experience entirely, but looking around a room filled with energetic young African-American students, led by an African-American female dean, she said there was much to celebrate.
“I am enormously proud of all of you. You are all going to have exceptional careers by virtue of the fact you are starting out with a much better support system than we did,” she said. “Thank you very much for including me in this and giving me back the three years I erased.”
Crawford, who works as counsel to the National Action Network in Philadelphia, said she was the first black woman to come through the law program and she and a friend founded the Black Law Students Association – a pleasant surprise to the students who were honoring her.
Society wasn’t “politically correct” in the mid 1970s, Crawford said, and she heard many comments not worth repeating that toughened her. After that, she decided, nothing could come at her in a courtroom that she couldn’t handle.
“Racism was not my issue. My issue was learning how to be the best lawyer I could be and nothing else was going to stop me,” she said.
Crawford brought her mother, Mary Crawford and son Joseph Reynolds, to the event with her. Mary Crawford was a student in the school’s paralegal program at the time Vivienne began working on her law degree. Vivienne’s daughter, Michika Reynolds-Quillan, is a 1997 Widener Law alumna who practices in Georgia.
Law Dean Linda L. Ammons said, as trailblazers, the first African-American graduates were innovative, fearless and determined and there is much today’s students can take from their experiences.
“They worked and sacrificed and they believed and did everything they could to make sure the doors were open to you at this point in time,” Ammons said. “When you leave this place your job is not finished. I want you to remember the people in this room who blazed the trail so you could sit in your seat tonight.”