Elreta Alexander Papers
Scope and Contents
The Elreta Alexander Papers, 1919-1999, document the activities of the first Black woman to practice law in North Carolina. The files consist of correspondence, news clippings, photographs, personal and work-related legal papers, interview transcripts, election campaign material, resumes, biographical/ genealogical material, writings collected by Alexander and one Travan-1 backup cartridge.
The material concerns many facets of her personal life including: documentation of her divorce from her first husband, Dr. Girardeau Alexander, information about her son, Girardeau Alexander III, biographical and genealogical materials, transcripts of interviews, personal financial materials, and family photos. The bulk of the papers consist of matters relating to her career in the field of Law. There are a large number of news clippings (1940s-early 1980s) collected by Alexander concerning herself as judge. Many of these deal with cases she tried or was involved with, her relations in the community as a public figure, and some of her practices as a judge some deemed controversial. For example, she launched "Judgment Day," a progressive sentencing program that allowed minors to perform community service and write essays about their crimes and rehabilitation to expunge criminal charges from their record (https://www.law.columbia.edu/news/archive/honoring-judge-elreta-alexander-45-first-black-woman-graduate-columbia-law). There is also a sizeable collection of correspondence (bulk from 1945-1979). Alexander kept legal papers from some of her most important cases, notably the Raulston case (1977) and subsequent proceedings. There are copies of election campaign material from 1968 (District Court Judge) and 1974 (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina). Brochures, invitations, schedules, and programs from various meetings and speaking engagements are present. Finally, there are copies of a portion of her published work, When is a Man Free? (1966), along with promotional postcards for the full work published by Dorrance and Company in 1967.
- 1919 - 1999
- Majority of material found within 1940 - 1985
- Alexander, Elreta Melton (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
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Biographical or Historical Information
Born Elreta Narcissus Melton on March 21, 1919, in Smithfield, North Carolina, Elreta's father, J.C. Melton later moved the family to Greensboro, North Carolina. Elreta graduated from Dudley High School at age 15, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College with a degree in Music at age 18. She married future doctor, Girardeau Alexander II, in Asheboro, North Carolina on June 7, 1938. The couple had one son, Girardeau Alexander III (born Oct. 4, 1950). Alexander was the first African-American woman to graduate from Columbia University Law School when she received her degree in 1945. She was also the first African-American woman to practice law in North Carolina (in Greensboro from 1947-1968). Alexander became the first African-American woman in the nation to be elected to the bench when she was elected District Court judge for Guilford County in 1968. She held that position until 1981, at which point, she continued to practice law privately until her retirement in 1995. Elreta and Dr. Girardeau Alexander were divorced March 12, 1968. Elreta married retired IRS official John Ralston in 1980. Elreta died March 15, 1998 at the age of 78.
2.10 Linear Feet (6 boxes)
Language of Materials
Elreta Alexander (1919-1998) worked in the field of law primarily in Greensboro, North Carolina from 1947-1995. She was the first African-American woman to: 1) graduate from Columbia University Law School when she received her degree in 1945, 2) practice law in North Carolina (in Greensboro from 1947-1968), and 3) be elected to the bench when she was elected District Court judge for Guilford County in 1968. When her term as District Court judge for Guilford County ended in 1981, she continued to practice law privately until her retirement in 1995.
The collection contains correspondence, news clippings, photographs, personal and work-related legal papers, interview transcripts, election campaign material, resumes, biographical/ genealogical material, writings of and concerning Elreta Alexander, and one Travan-1 backup cartridge dating from 1919-1999.
Collection is arranged in the following series: Correspondence, Newspaper Clippings, Financial Records, Legal Documents, Biographical Materials, Photos, Miscellaneous. Some series are further subdivided. All are arranged chronologically within series where possible.
Method of Acquisition
Gift of Mary Nicholson in October, 2004.
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Processed by Scott Hinshaw, August, 2010.
- Elreta Alexander Papers
- Scott Hinshaw
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- April 20, 2021: This finding aid underwent changes in Spring 2021 after a reparative archives review. The following link leads to the legacy version of this finding aid: http://library.uncg.edu/info/depts/scua/legacyFA/04.MSS223.legacy.pdf