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Chatham County’s first Black woman Chief Judge looks back on the changes she has seen

Ninety-five years ago Friday, Violette Neatly Anderson was the first Black woman to practice...
Ninety-five years ago Friday, Violette Neatly Anderson was the first Black woman to practice law in front of the Supreme Court.(WTOC)
Updated: Jan. 29, 2021 at 6:24 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Ninety-five years ago Friday, Violette Neatly Anderson was the first Black woman to practice law in front of the Supreme Court.

Since then, more Black women have entered the field of law. That includes Chatham County Chief Judge Tammy Stokes, the first Black woman to hold that position.

“It’s really helpful when you can look at somebody who looks like you.”

Chatham County Chief Judge Tammy Stokes was part of the University of Georgia School of Law’s largest class of black students graduating in 1987.

“I’m smiling quite happy after those three years in law school.”

The Savannah native held various legal positions in Washington, D.C. and the Atlanta area, but never saw herself coming back to Savannah.

“There just weren’t many people who looked like me that were doing what I wanted to do.”

A challenge, Stokes says, many Black women still face in law. Here in Chatham County, not so much.

“It’s really exciting and inspiring.”

And necessary, she says, diversity in the courts is important.

“You bring yourself. Your whole self. All of your experiences, who you are.”

Stokes felt called back to Savannah in 2004, when she became the first Black woman judge in Chatham County.

“Black people face certain difficulties.”

“When you’re able to break through, it somehow helps, not only the individual, it helps the whole.”

Stokes has been the Chief Judge for the county’s recorder’s court for 16 years now - seeing positive change but knows there’s more work that can be done.

“If you don’t know your history, you can’t appreciate where you are in time.”

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