August 30, 2021 — In 1844, Macon Bolling Allen became the first African American person licensed to practice law in the U.S. After passing the bar in Maine, Allen struggled to find clients in the predominantly white state. He later moved to Boston and became the nation’s first Black judicial office holder.

A new Antiracist program at Penn State Dickinson Law will be named for Allen, acknowledging the importance of his legacy and encouraging more people of color to attend law school. A generous $250,000 gift from anonymous donors will fund the program.

Dickinson Law Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle M. Conway and Director of Development and Alumni Affairs Kelly Rimmer worked closely with the donors to refine the focus of the program. The Macon Bolling Allen Civil Rights and Transitional Justice Program at Dickinson Law will support civil rights and transitional justice activities, particularly those that serve juveniles from underrepresented populations, including children of color, children in the foster care system, and immigrants.

“I feel confident that the work we are doing at Dickinson Law fits squarely within the donors’ long-term objectives to acknowledge the persistence of racial inequality and then to do the hard work of deconstructing systems that allow racial inequality to exist,” said Conway.

She recalled studying Allen through the work of J. Clay Smith Jr., her former professor at Howard University School of Law and author of “Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944.” Conway pointed to lessons in Allen’s story that remain applicable today.

“Even if you have a community that is predominantly white, it does not mean that you cannot achieve diversity. Macon Bolling Allen was able to begin a legacy of law leadership launching from the state of Maine, often identified as one of the whitest states in the nation," said Conway. "This fact says something absolutely amazing about the human spirit. It says something about the humanity of abolitionist thought and action in the antebellum period. Also, it says something about the investment that people have in the success of others. Macon Bolling Allen was encouraged by General Samuel Fessenden, an abolitionist and lawyer from Portland, Maine. It is the spirit of Allen and Fessenden and the racial justice work ahead that have inspired this generous gift.”

Starting critical conversations

The donors embraced the concept of providing necessary help. They voiced an appreciation for Dickinson Law’s Antiracist leadership and the introduction of the “Race and the Equal Protection of the Laws” course last year. The donors said facilitating communication is vital to Antiracist work related to the rule of law, and supporting the program provides an opportunity to open such communication lines.

“The issues of race and immigration have come to the forefront now in our culture. It has been a long time coming, and we need to have a candid conversation about that,” said the donors. “If we are going to tackle the problems, we really need to meet each other and figure out how to get along. We hope the program can help take a step in that direction and eliminate some of the structural issues that leave some people behind.”

The donors noted that through personal experiences, including serving on a local juvenile justice board, they have perceived differing opportunities afforded to white people and people of color. They want to help change that.

“It seems like having an Antiracist law school and the programs that accompany that can really make a difference in the end,” said the donors. “If you look at society and the different glues that keep us together, the legal practice is probably on top. The stronger we can make an effective rule of law and conflict resolution that addresses aspects of how culture actually functions, the better off we all are.”

The Macon Bolling Allen Civil Rights and Transitional Justice Program at Dickinson Law may encompass funding of adjunct faculty, teaching fellows, and/or clinical professors whose courses and/or scholarship address civil rights and/or transitional justice, with emphasis on juvenile justice issues impacting children of color, children in the foster care system, and immigrants; research, programming, and advocacy that addresses disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system, particularly among underrepresented children in the foster care system; research, programming, and advocacy activities of the Children’s Advocacy Clinic or its successor entities; and more.

“When people see others lean into the work, especially other people who are the beneficiaries of privilege, it speaks volumes about how these problems are not insurmountable. The donors are leaning into leadership on these issues and showing other people who recognize that these inequities exist how to be proactive on racial justice,” said Conway.

The commitment will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation, and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit