ATLA Salutes.... 
Ernestine Sapp
 
 
 
 

TUSKEGEE ----A very tragic accident led Ernestine Sapp to the practice of law.

As a child she was involved in an automobile accident that left her aunt and uncle dead and her severely injured.

“That incident skewered my perspective on life and community service,” Sapp said. “After the accident, I felt like there had to be some reason that I was left.

“It led me to become very actively involved in community work and also led me to law school,” she said.

Sapp, now  a senior citizen, has spent the last three decades practicing law and trying to improve the lives of all Alabamians. Her storied career will end December 31 when she leaves the firm of Gray, Langford, Sapp, McGowan, Gray and Nathanson, one of the country’s premier law firms that has gained national attention fighting for civil rights for all people, regardless of race, gender, and age.

 Sapp spent the first 10 years of her married life taking care of her three children and working on community service projects in Tuskegee. The family moved to Tuskegee after her husband, Dr. Walter J. Sapp, went to work at Tuskegee University. At the encouragement of friends, she entered Jones Law School and was the first African American  graduate from there  to become a  lawyer.

Law school graduation was just the beginning of a lot of “firsts” for Sapp. She was the first African American woman to serve on the Alabama Trial Lawyers Executive Committee, she was the first African American  from Alabama to serve on the board of the National Trial Lawyers minority caucus, she was the first Alabamian elected  vice president of the National Bar Association , she was the first African American woman elected Bar Commissioner for the Alabama State Bar.and was the first African American from Alabama elected State Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates.

“It has been a pioneering effort on my part to be involved in various legal activities,” Sapp said. “I have tried to do things on behalf of women and minorities.

“I don’t think it was a hard thing,” she said. “I think you had to be genuine and work hard, and I have tried to do both.”

Her “favorite” case has been the landmark Lee vs. Macon which has been heralded nationally for the improvements it has made in special education. She praised the work of the state officials, lawyers, and U.S. Federal Judge Myron Thompson for working together to do “wonderful things to improve the plight of children.”

A big disappointment was losing a case in federal court that would have required the state to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol dome, but said she is glad that Montgomery attorney Morris Dees won the case in state court.

“I thought it was important to remove the flag so we could be a united society,” Sapp said.

Sapp had planned to retire three years ago but stayed at the firm after a tragic fire destroyed their building.

“I promised Fred (Gray) that I would work until he got in the new building and I have kept my promise,” she said. “We are going to move this month.”

Sapp says she is looking forward to retirement. She wants to spend time with her now elderly parents, her three children and her six grandchildren, all of whom live out-of-state. Her son Van, his wife and three children live in New York: her son Erik, his wife and three children live in Washington, D.C.; and her daughter Elizabeth lives in Atlanta.

She also will remain active in LINKS, Inc., a national women’s service organization, and her church, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

“I have been blessed,” she said. “I am grateful to the Lord for all of my blessings.”

Ernestine Sapp is a true pioneer and a “Champion of Justice” who will be missed in legal circles in Alabama and across the nation.