Cora T. Walker, a prominent New York lawyer who nearly 60 years ago became one of the first black women to practice law in the state, died in 2006 at her home in Harlem, NY. She was 84.
The cause was cancer, said her son Lawrence R. Bailey Jr., a lawyer, who practiced with his mother for many years.
For decades, Ms. Walker ran a private practice in Harlem, first on 125th Street and later from a restored brownstone at 270 Lenox Avenue. From 1976 until her retirement in 1999, she was the senior partner in Walker & Bailey, one of the city’s few black law firms, which she established with her son.
The firm’s practice eventually included corporate clients like Conrail, the Ford Motor Company, Texas Instruments and Kentucky Fried Chicken. But Ms. Walker continued drawing up wills and preparing personal-injury claims for the men and women she described as the “plain, ordinary, not elegant people” of her Harlem community.
Active in Republican politics, Ms. Walker ran unsuccessfully for the New York State Senate in 1958 and 1964. In 1970, The New York Times included her — the only woman — on a list of the most powerful leaders in Harlem.
Cora Thomasina Walker was born on June 20, 1922, in Charlotte, N.C., one of nine children of William and Benetta Jones Walker. The family moved to the Bronx when she was a child. When she was an adolescent, her parents separated, leaving her, her mother and her siblings dependent on public assistance.
After graduating from James Monroe High School in the Bronx, Ms. Walker promptly informed the Welfare Department that their help was no longer required: she would support the family. She took a night job as a teletype operator with Western Union and also sold Christmas cards.
At the same time, Ms. Walker was enrolled at St. John’s University, then in Brooklyn, in a special six-year program in which students earned both a bachelor’s degree and a law degree. She received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from St. John’s in 1945 and a law degree the next year.
For much of her career, Ms. Walker was active in the National Bar Association, a historically black organization. She helped found the association’s Corporate Counsel Conference, an annual meeting sponsored by its commercial law section. Begun in 1988, the conference helps black lawyers cultivate relationships with corporate clients.
In the 1960’s, Ms. Walker became the first woman to serve as president of the Harlem Lawyers Association.
Ms. Walker’s marriage, to Lawrence R. Bailey Sr., a lawyer, ended in divorce. In addition to her son Lawrence Jr., of the Bronx, she is survived by another son, Bruce E. Bailey, a physician, of Norwich, Conn.; a sister, Danetta Black, formerly of White Plains; and three grandchildren.
In 1947, when Ms. Walker was admitted to the New York bar, she found the doors of the city’s law firms tightly shut. (One firm relented and offered her a position — as a secretary.) So she struck out on her own.
Her first client was an undertaker, for whom she did collections. Before long, by dint of reading self-improvement books, Ms. Walker had learned to “join everything, give everybody a card, join a political club,” as she told The New York Times in 1989.
In 1999, the New York County Lawyers’ Association installed a plaque outside the Lenox Avenue brownstone where Ms. Walker had her office, commemorating her half-century in the law. The building has since been sold, her son said, and the plaque is now gone.