2020 Legal Legends of Color Honorees Announced


By Sharita M. Whitaker

The word “change” has various definitions, but my favorite expression of change is “to shift; to undergo transformation or transition.” We can certainly say that “change” is inevitable in all aspects of our lives. Thus far in 2020 alone, we have witnessed how COVID-19 and other events have caused many of us to adjust when, how, and where we work and interact with others. Also, the NCBA has had to shift its 2020 Annual Meeting in Charlotte to an online, virtual program. But “change” presents us with an opportunity to reflect on and learn from our experiences and the experiences of others in order for each of us to evolve for the better.

Although we are unable to celebrate together at the Annual Meeting in Charlotte, and we are adjusting to the change by celebrating in other (virtual) ways, we are proud to announce our 2020 Legal Legends of Color honorees: Judge Yvonne Mims Evans, Senator Dan T. Blue Jr., Attorney Anthony Fox, Professor George R. Johnson Jr., and the late Attorney J. Kenneth Lee. In order to be named a Legal Legend of Color, such person must be (1) a lawyer of color practicing (or one who has practiced most recently) in North Carolina for at least 15 years, (2) have had a legal career with a significant impact in North Carolina, (3) have demonstrated a high level of service to his/her local community and/or on an statewide basis, and (4) be a member in good standing of the North Carolina State Bar (active or inactive). These five attorneys have more than satisfied the criteria for being named a Legal Legend of Color, and, further, they have all effected significant positive change in the North Carolina legal community and beyond. We are honored to share snippets of their distinguished careers with you:

Judge Yvonne Mims Evans 

Evans launched her practice in 1976 at the Chambers Law Firm in Charlotte after graduating from Duke University School of Law. Her career is replete with firsts, including practicing as the first Black female partner at a Charlotte law firm and first female Chief District Court Judge in Mecklenburg County. She served on the Mecklenburg County Superior Court bench for 15 years. Evans served as a judge for a total of twenty-five years before retiring in 2018. She was inducted into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine and awarded the 2018 Outstanding Judge of the Year by the NC Association of Women Attorneys. Her dedication to community, justice for all, and the fair application of the rule of law has inspired innumerable attorneys.


Senator Dan T. Blue Jr.

Blue earned his J.D. in 1973 from Duke University School of Law and began his career in politics in 1980. His tenure with the NC General Assembly is extensive, and his early representation was often on behalf of Robeson County related to community matters such as education and job development. His career bears many firsts, including service as the first Black Speaker of the House, first Black President of the National Conference of State Legislatures, and first Black Chairman of the Duke Board of Trustees. His career has broken political barriers for all who follow in his footsteps. His impact on the state of North Carolina is continual and remains instrumental in the progression of our state and its citizens.


Attorney Anthony Fox

Fox began practicing law in 1983 after graduating from North Carolina Central University School of Law. He has more than thirty years of experience representing municipalities in various capacities, as well as experience in bridging together the public and private sectors to create beneficial results. He is a partner at Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP and is the first African American to serve on its Board of Directors. He is a champion of education and has served on the Board of Visitors of N.C. Central University School of Law for many years. He is a member (and served as past president) of the NC Association of Municipal Attorneys, served as the only attorney on the Federal Communication Commission’s Intergovernmental Advisory Committee, and was appointed to the City of Charlotte Airport Commission. His dedication to service, leadership, and excellence in practice provides the framework for a lasting career from which all attorneys may benefit.

Professor George R. Johnson Jr.

Johnson graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1976 and boasts a distinguished career consisting of more than thirty years of experience. He has served in leadership positions in the executive office of the U.S. President, in Congress, as a college president at LeMoyne-Owen College, in private practice, and in law school leadership. As Elon Law’s first African American Dean, he led the law school to full accreditation and served as a crucial mentor to its African American law students. Now as Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law at Elon, he continues providing legal instruction and guidance to hundreds of attorneys seeking to advance the law in North Carolina. His commitment to shaping the next great minds of our society evidences a legacy that will inevitably touch countless lives and has lasting nationwide impacts.

This photo has been used with permission from Greensboro News and Record.

Attorney J. Kenneth Lee (posthumously):

Born in Charlotte in 1924, J. Kenneth Lee was a true trailblazer throughout his life. He was valedictorian of his high school class. He served in the military during World War II. He attended North Carolina A&T State University and earned a degree in electrical engineering. He founded the first Black-owned, federally chartered savings and loan bank in North Carolina when he was denied loans by other banks for being African American. He established a private trade school that trained African American military veterans to become electricians. When he wanted to become an attorney, he was involved in litigation that led to the integration of UNC School of Law, becoming one of its first African American graduates. After graduating from law school, Lee became a prominent and highly regarded civil rights attorney in Greensboro with a career that spanned over fifty years. Sadly, Lee passed away in 2018 at the age of 94, but his legacy will live on. We are pleased to celebrate his life and accomplishments by presenting this posthumous honor to him.

In addition to appreciating their distinguished careers and various accolades, we asked our honorees to describe what they felt was an essential quality of leadership, so that we could learn from their experiences as trailblazing attorneys of color—their remarkable responses follow below:

Judge Yvonne Mims Evans: “An essential characteristic of leadership is the ability to listen to the ideas of others.”

Senator Dan T. Blue Jr.: “I believe that it is essential for a good leader to be open-minded, and to adapt to new challenges. Every leader must prepare for every possible scenario and be ready for every possible outcome. More importantly, a good leader must be willing to learn, and to listen to the ideas of others to formulate the best strategy.”

Attorney Anthony Fox: “I believe that the essential characteristic of a leader is an insatiable commitment to serve and to give back to society.”

Professor George R. Johnson Jr.: “The essential quality of leadership, I believe, is integrity. Leaders implicitly, often explicitly, ask their people, their colleagues to trust them: to trust that the leader is working for them, that the leader’s decisions and choices seek to advance their interests and values. A leader will not always make the right or the best decision, but when others know or believe the leader’s decisions are grounded in principle, which is to say, the leader has integrity, then even wrong or bad decisions will be understood, and trust in the leader will be maintained.”

Family of the late Attorney J. Kenneth Lee: “I believe my grandfather would say that the essential characteristic of a leader is courage. It takes courage to often stand alone and do what you believe is right, to sacrifice the things that may give you comfort, so that others can benefit, and courage to know that sometimes all you will have to lean on is your faith that things can and will change.”

Join us in congratulating our 2020 Legal Legends of Color honorees! Please take this opportunity to learn more about each of our 2020 honorees and to reflect on their insights into leadership as we all continue to change for the better.

Learn more or nominate a 2021 Legal Legend of Color.


Sharita M. Whitaker is a partner with Smith Anderson in Raleigh.