Elreta Melton Alexander Ralston

Rundate: 03/15/1998


ANDREA BALL Staff Writer

The first black woman in the United States to be elected as a judge dies Saturday (March 14, 1998).
Elreta Alexander-Ralston, the nation's first black woman elected to the bench, died early Saturday morning.
Alexander-Ralston - known affectionately by her clients and peers as Judge A - spent more than 50 years breaking the color barrier in North Carolina courtrooms. She served as a District Court judge in Guilford County from 1968 to 1981.Alexander-Ralston was 78.
Born Elreta Melton in Smithfield, N.C. on March 21, 1919, Alexander-Ralston was the daughter of a minister who forbade any member of his family to ride a segregated bus. The family moved to Greensboro, and Alexander-Ralston graduated from Dudley High School when she was 15. At 18, she graduated from A&T State University with a degree in music.
But the law was Alexander-Ralston's destiny.
The North Carolina native made history when she was the first black woman accepted to Columbia University Law School. And for the next 50 years, she continued to enter the history books with a string of firsts that marked her as a pioneer to black career women everywhere.
Alexander-Ralston was the first black woman to practice law in North Carolina, the first to argue a case before the state Supreme Court.
In 1968, she became the nation's first black woman elected to the bench.
Colleagues have called Alexander-Ralston a trailblazer in first-offender programs, developing community service before it was popular. Judge A earned a reputation as a jurist who scheduled ``Judgment Day,' where she gave defendants a chance to resurrect their lives. Compassionate. That's what people called her.
But get her on the other side of the bench - and watch out.
Alexander-Ralston was considered a tiger in the courtroom, a ferocious lawyer who fought hard for her clients. In 1995 - two years after suffering a heart attack while defending a client in the courtroom - she retired from the law firm of Alexander-Ralston, Speckhard and Speckhard.
Alexander-Ralston requested that there be no memorial service and that donations be made to one's favorite charity. Funeral arrangements are by Brown's Funeral Home.
Published in the News & Record Sunday, March 15, 1998

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