Recognizing Some of UW Law's Notable Black Alumni
From judges to justices, CEOs to mayors, here is a lookback at some of UW Law's distinguished Black graduates.
While this list spotlights several of UW Law's notable Black alumni, we acknowledge it is not a comprehensive list. If you have someone you would like to see featured in future publications, please let us know at email@example.com.
William McDonald Austin, Class of 1902
As a member of UW Law’s inaugural class in 1899, William McDonald Austin was the first Black person admitted to — and to graduate from — the University of Washington School of Law, where he received his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1902. During his junior year, his peers elected him class treasurer. His senior thesis was titled “The Civil Rights Act.” While Austin gained admission to practice law in Washington state, he was dissatisfied with the career opportunities available to him. In October 1902, he boarded a steam ship for Manila in the Philippines, with hopes his professional connections abroad would afford him better prospects. His career’s continued developments were not traced following his departure.
Judge John Prim ’27
John Prim lettered in football and baseball at the UW before earning his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1927. He passed the bar that same year and had a private law practice until 1943, after which he became the first African American deputy prosecuting attorney for King County. After a brief stint returning to private practice in the early 1950s, Mayor Allan Pomeroy appointed Prim as judge pro tem of Seattle Municipal Court. Prim was the first African American member of the State Board of Prisons and Parole and a founding member of the Seattle Urban League.
Justice Charles Z. Smith ’55
Groundbreaking Justice Charles Z. Smith was the only African American in his 1955 graduating class and one of only four students of color at UW Law. In 1965, Justice Smith was appointed to the Seattle Municipal Court, becoming the state’s first African American judge. The following year, Governor Dan Evans appointed him to the King County Superior Court. Justice Smith taught at UW Law from 1973 to 1983 and served as an associate dean. In 1988, Governor Booth Gardner appointed Justice Smith to the Washington Supreme Court, where Smith won re-election three times. Smith was the longest-serving justice at the time his retirement in 2002, with a tenure totaling 14 years. Justice Smith’s portrait, painted by artist Alfredo Arreguin, is displayed outside room 133 in William H. Gates Hall.
Judge Donald D. Haley ’58
Judge Haley earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science at the UW before going on to graduate from the School of Law in 1958. He began his distinguished career by practicing law from 1968–82 and served on the King County Superior Court bench beginning in 1983. Judge Haley was a member of many bar-related activities and committees and served as founder and president of the Loren Miller Bar Association. Active in advancing civil rights and social justice, Judge Haley was a lifetime member and former president of the Seattle King County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Constance Proctor, ’78
In 1997, Governor Gary Locke appointed Constance Proctor to the University of Washington Board of Regents, where she served until 2009, including a stretch as chair. Proctor is a UW Law Distinguished Alumna and was recognized as Outstanding Lawyer of the Year by the King County Bar Association. She is currently a co-managing member of Century Law Firm, PLLC, where she leads the Real Estate Practice Group. Proctor has served on the board of directors of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, Catholic Relief Services, Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Seattle branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, among others.
Mayor Bruce Harrell ’84
Bruce Harrell, a two-time Husky graduate and member of the UW’s 1979 Rose Bowl-winning football team, is Seattle’s first Asian American mayor, first biracial mayor and second Black mayor. He began his legal career as in-house counsel at technology and telecommunications companies before going on to represent employees, youth, small businesses and nonprofit organizations at a downtown Seattle law firm. In 2007, Bruce Harrell pivoted his focus to public service and was elected to the Seattle City Council where he twice won re-election. He served as city council president on two occasions. Harrell won the 2021 Seattle mayoral election and currently serves as the city’s 57th mayor, a position he also held on an interim basis for six days in 2017.
Karen Lee ’95
Washington native Karen Lee attended UW Law after graduating from West Point and serving as a U.S. Army officer. She went on to work for K&L Gates, and as Director of Gas Operations at Puget Sound Energy. Later, she would go on to hold the top executive role at the Washington State Employment Security Department, Pioneer Human Services, and now, at Plymouth Housing. Lee is dedicated to improving the lives of low-income workers and families, people reentering society from incarceration, and those experiencing homelessness, disenfranchisement and injustice. She is proud of the many positive changes she has overseen through her years of state service on the Washington Student Achievement Council, Western Washington University and now, the Washington Statewide Reentry Council. An experienced leader in many sectors, she serves on the boards of Lease Crutcher Lewis and Northwest Natural.
Adaobi Egboka ’18
Adaobi Egboka serves as the Africa Programs Director at the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, a leading organization dedicated to advancing global justice. In her role, she leads the organization's mission in Africa to promote and provide pro bono legal representation to civil society organizations (CSOs) and partners. She also advocates for strengthening the legal profession through innovative initiatives such as the African Legal Fellows Program and the Women in the Profession Program. Prior to earning her LL.M. degree from UW Law in Sustainable International Development, Egboka worked for 11 years at the Legal Defence and Assistant Project in Lagos, Nigeria, as the Executive Programmes Director and advanced the organization's mission of providing free legal representation to victims of human rights violations.