Welcome to the “Path to Unity,” a traveling Florida legal history project that tells the story of The Florida Bar’s journey from a segregated past to the rich, multi-cultural public organization it is today. We hope you enjoy learning about Florida’s Legal Legends of change.
Legal Legends: Pioneers on The Florida Bar’s Path to Unity
James Weldon Johnson
Johnson was born in Jacksonville in 1871. In 1897, he became one of the first African Americans to be admitted to The Florida Bar. He was also a writer, diplomat, social critic, civil-rights advocate, and leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He is widely remembered as the author of the words to Lift Every Voice and Sing, often referred to as the Black National Anthem.
Judge Mario Goderich
Goderich was born in Cuba in approximately 1930. He was a lawyer in Havana until 1961 when he was forced to leave the country to avoid persecution under the Castro regime. He started over in Miami, enrolling in the University of Miami School of Law, where he graduated in 1966. Yet, he could not be admitted to The Florida Bar until he gained U.S. citizenship three years later. He helped organize the Cuban American Bar Association, the first Hispanic bar in Florida, and was its first president. He became Florida’s first Hispanic judge in 1975, and its first Hispanic appellate judge in 1990.
James “Jim” Kracht
Kracht has been blind since birth. Long before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed and accessibility standards were in place, he attended and graduated from Harvard University and then Harvard Law School. Despite a prestigious educational pedigree, it took him several years to find a job. This led him to better understand discrimination and unfair treatment and work to solve accessibility, accommodation, and discrimination issues for others. He has been a tireless advocate for voting rights for people with disabilities and is widely considered a preeminent leader of disability law in Florida.
Anna Brenner Meyers
Meyers was born in Poland in 1896 and immigrated to the U.S. as an infant. After becoming a nurse and teacher, she entered law school in New York, graduating in 1934. She moved to Florida and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1936. Successful in business and in law, she fought for the desegregation of schools and increased wages for teachers. She unsuccessfully ran for the office of judge. Undeterred, she was determined to grow opportunities for other women and helped organize the Florida Association for Women Lawyers in 1951, becoming its first president.
Smith was born of modest means in rural Alabama, the first in his family to graduate from college. He graduated from the University of Alabama Law School in 1984. He moved to Florida and was admitted to the Florida Bar. Long before the U.S. Supreme Court recognized equality for LGBTQ citizens, Smith became the first openly gay attorney to address the Florida Bar about professionalism and diversity that included the LGBTQ community. He offered his voice and service to the Florida Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism and many Bar committees as a “first.” He became a nationally respected spokesperson for diversity and inclusion, especially the “invisible minority.”