Eunice Roberta Hunton Carter, 1899 – 1970, broke down racial and gender barriers. She was one of New York’s first African-American woman lawyers, and served as one of the first district attorneys of color in the United States. She was active in the Pan-African Congress and in United Nations committees to advance the status of women in the world. She was also instrumental in aiding New York District Attorney Thomas Dewey with successfully charging Mafioso kingpin Charles “Lucky” Luciano (below) with compulsory prostitution.
She was born in Atlanta in 1899, the daughter of William Alphaeus Hunton, Sr. (founder of the black division of the Y.M.C.A.) and Addie (Waites) Hunton (a social worker); both were college educated. Her paternal grandfather Stanton Hunton purchased his freedom from slavery before the American Civil War. She had a brother W. Alphaeus Hunton, Jr. He became an author, academic and activist noted for his involvement with the Council on African Affairs and promotion of Pan-African identity. The family moved from Atlanta to Brooklyn, New York after the 1906 Atlanta riot. They attended local schools. Their mother Addie Hunton was active with the NAACP and the YMCA, achieving national status. She was selected as one of two women to go to France during World War I to check on the condition of United States black servicemen.
Eunice graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, receiving a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. After a brief time as a social worker, she decided to study law. She became the first black women to receive a law degree from Fordham University in New York City (Gray, 2007, n.p). In mid-May 1933, Eunice Carter passed the bar exam in New York (Two New York Women, 6).
In 1935 Carter became the first black woman assistant district attorney in the state of New York.
Carter soon established a career in both law and international politics. In 1935 Carter became the first black woman assistant district attorney in the state of New York. As an assistant DA, Carter put together a massive prostitution racketeering case that led eventually to Mafia boss Lucky Luciano. Carter convinced New York District Attorney Thomas Dewey to personally prosecute the case. Luciano was convicted and served ten years, and then was deported. The case generated national fame for Dewey, which he rode to election as the governor of New York. He also made two unsuccessful runs for the White House, one against President Harry S. Truman. Dewey benefited from Carter’s prosecutorial skills, and had genuine respect for her. La Guardia and Dewey hired a large staff to fight organized crime and selected Carter to work in the predominately black area of Harlem.
Active in the Pan-African Congress in the 1920s, Carter later became active in the United Nations, serving on committees that advocated improving the status of women (“Eunice Carter,” 14). In addition to her work for the UN, she also served on the Executive Committee of the International Council of Women, an organization with representatives from 37 countries. (“U.S. Women’s Unit,” 9) Additionally, she served on the board of the Y.W.C.A.
Hunton married Lisle Carter, Sr., who was one of the first African-American dentists in New York. They lived for many years she lived at 409 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem, Manhattan. The couple’s only child, Lisle Carter, Jr., graduated from college and law school. He practiced law and later worked in the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson presidential administrations as a political appointee.