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Black America Library Series

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Our Visual Library Series serves as a powerful antidote to attacks on diversity, Black history studies, Critical Race Theory (CRT), and books by Black Authors by providing a comprehensive perspective on American History.

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They highlight the often-overlooked contributions and experiences of Black individuals and organizations, promoting inclusivity and challenging stereotypes.

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  • Writer's pictureT. Brookshire

The Black Lawyer who took down the Mafia: Eunice Carter



Eunice Hunton Carter was born in 1899 in Atlanta, the granddaughter of formerly enslaved parents. The Hunton parents were both social activists who instilled in Eunice a sense of duty to serve. She would go on to attend Smith College in Massachusetts, graduating cum laude in 1921 with both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Even more impressive, she was working full time as a social worker supervisor in New York and New Jersey, while simultaneously taking classes at Fordham Law School and raising a son with her husband. She finally earned her law degree in 1932 achieving two milestones: the first African American woman to receive a law degree from Fordham as well as the first black woman to graduate from that school.



Carter's Rise to NY Assistant D.A.

After receiving her law degree, she quickly became a formidable attorney after opening her own private law practice. Her talents would eventually draw the attention of New York City’s mayor who immediately appointed her as a prosecutor in the “women’s court” with a focus on tackling prostitution and domestic violence cases in the predominately black area of Harlem. This was yet another achievement for Carter who became the first female African-American assistant D.A. in the state of New York.


But the U.S. government had dubbed the mafia as one of the greatest domestic threats of that time. Thus, the newly-appointed New York District Attorney, Thomas Dewey, was assigned as special prosecutor in 1935 to bring down the powerful and violent Mafia and was in the process of assembling a large dream team of attorneys he would call the “Twenty Against the Underworld”. This allstar legal team consisted of 20 lawyers: 19 white men … and he also hand-picked Eunice. The men were all working on loansharking, kidnappings, murders, violent crimes, and numbers running. But Eunice would continue her focus on the prostitution rings, listening to citizen complaints and performing her research.




Lucky Luciano becomes Mobb Boss

Meanwhile, Charles “Lucky” Luciano was rising in prominence as a bootlegger for the Sicilian Mafia during Prohibition. In 1931, he eliminated the old guard Sicilians through brutal murder, extortion, and intimidation. He then created America’s first national organized crime syndicate called the “Commission”. The crime team consisted of the Five Families of New York (Italian crime families) and some top Jewish mobsters. And now Lucky Luciano was the “chairman of the board”. By the mid-’30s, Luciano had his hands in multiple rackets, from drugs and illegal liquor to loan sharking, and the numbers/illegal gambling.


Carter Makes a Major Break in the Case


But Eunice Carter was now on his t(r)ail. As Eunice meticulously investigated her cases, she started to notice an interesting pattern that would help unravel the intricate web of a sprawling prostitution racket. Eunice discovered that the women arrested for prostitution from all over New York City were all using the same stories on the affidavits to beat their raps. Moreover, they all were represented by the same lawyers… and the same bail bondsmen. And those agents all had a relationship with none other than the Charlie “Lucky” Luciano. Carter reasoned that this cast of characters meant that the Mob perhaps controlled New York’s prostitution as a racket.





She approached her boss, Dewey, with the evidence in 1936. A deeper investigation by Dewey’s office confirmed Carter’s theory – racketeers were indeed deeply entrenched in illegal prostitution and collected 50 percent of their employees’ earnings. Carter and Dewey established that the kick back was required in exchange for the crime bosses’ protection, social network, resources, and legal representation – in effect, Luciano and the Five Families were profiting from prostitution.


A testament to Carter's brilliance… she was the only DA on Dewey's legal dream team who was able to connect Luciano and the Five Families with any crime…

Subsequently, special prosecutor Dewey ordered a raid of scores of brothels and arrested over 100 illegal sex workers. Carter’s warm and soft demeanor also helped many of them to flip and agree to testify against Luciano with critical behind-the-scenes details.

In 1936, Lucky Luciano was charged with pandering on a large scale and Eunice convinced New York District Attorney Thomas Dewey to personally prosecute the case. The sensational trial ended in a guilty verdict and a sentence of 30 to 40 years for the Mafiosos kingpin, Luciano (who was paroled in 1946 and deported to Italy).

Luciano’s conviction, based on Carter’s discovery, was considered the most successful court action against organized crime in U.S. history. (Sidenote: Thomas Dewey benefited greatly from Carter's work prosecutorial skills. The case generated national fame for him which he leveraged to become governor of New York and even nominee for President in both 1944 and 1948. sigh)



Legacy

Carter continued working with Dewey and the District Attorney’s Office until 1945, when she entered back into private practice. Carter became a legal advisor to the newly formed United Nations, a member of the U.S. National Council of Negro Women, in 1945 and also served as a national board member of the YMCA for many years.

Eunice Hunton Carter transitioned in 1970. Her legacy is profoundly significant in both legal history and the advancement of African Americans and women in the legal profession. We salute her for her pioneering achievements in the legal profession, her crucial role in the fight against organized crime in New York, and her enduring impact as a trailblazer for civil rights and gender equality.

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