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Eunice Hunton Carter

Eunice Roberta Hunton Carter
July 16, 1899 – January 25, 1970
Notable: Lawyer
Nationality: American

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Eunice Roberta Hunton Carter was born in Atlanta, Georgia one of Addie Waites and William Alphaeus Hunton’s two children. Her mother was an activist and organizer for the YWCA and NAACP while her father was an international secretary for the YMCA. Both parents traveled extensively for work which meant that at times Hunton and her brother were separated from their parents and even each other.

Over two days in September of 1906, when Hunton was seven years old White terrorists carrying various weapons attacked her neighborhood. At the time, Atlanta’s Fourth Ward was a predominantly Black middle-class neighborhood (later home to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Early in the attack, a sympathetic White friend of the family offered them sanctuary but the Huntons remained in their home which narrowly escaped the attack. In the aftermath, the Huntons left Atlanta for Brooklyn, New York.

Once settled amongst New York City’s Black intellectuals, the Hunton children were enrolled in good schools and later spent a year and a half in Germany. For college, Hunton enrolled at Smith College from which she would obtain both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Smith is located in Northampton, Massachusetts, and was home to then-Governor and later vice president and president Calvin Coolidge. A professor introduced Hunton to Coolidge who became a mentor and at whose home Hunton would spend a lot of time with the family and making use of the library.

Following graduation, Hunton spent a semester back in the South teaching at Baton Rouge’s Southern University. The experience reminded her of living in the South as a child and in part prompted a return to New York City where she became a social worker and teacher. In addition to being an educator, Hunton was a well-respected Harlem Renaissance author and local activist. She met Lisle Carter, a dentist while establishing Harlem’s first free dental clinic and the two married in 1924 at which point she became Eunice Hunton Carter.

Carter had been suppressing a dream of becoming a lawyer since childhood and now settled in life but yearning for more she began attending Fordham Law School in 1927. After a few delays, Carter graduated and was admitted to the New York State Bar. Shortly thereafter she served as the defense for Black voters accused of voter registration fraud, as part of a political women’s group aimed at driving voter registration, and as a volunteer assistant in New York City’s Women’s Courts.

Establishing a successful law practice would prove difficult but Carter’s involvement in the legal and civic world created new opportunities. In 1934, Carter lost the race for a state assembly seat but following the 1935 Harlem Riot, she was appointed as secretary of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia’s Commission on Conditions in Harlem. Later that year, special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey added her to his team of assistant special attorneys, “Twenty Against the Underworld”, which was formed to combat the mob.

She garnered a lot of attention as the team’s only Black and only female lawyer. While the title and position were prestigious, Carter was paid less than the other members of the team and she was assigned the mundane task of recording information and citizen complaints related to prostitution. Carter was almost sidelined by the work that Dewey and the others didn’t want to do. But over time, it became apparent to Carter that police were picking and choosing which complaints about brothels and prostitution they would address.

Seeming coincidences piqued Carter’s interest and caused her to review court records. Carter found a troubling pattern in several cases that had fallen apart and been dismissed. By the time these cases got to court, the officer who made the arrest was unable to recall important information. A lawyer by the name of Abraham Karp had frequently represented prostitutes back when Carter worked at the Women’s Court. The police could remember details in other cases but were suddenly forgetful when Karp was representing an accused prostitute. Karp worked with Max Rachlin, Charles “Lucky” Luciano’s attorney, as well as Jesse Jacobs who served as the women’s bail bondsman.

Carter assembled a mass of research with assistance from another prosecutor, authorized wiretaps, and the information gathered from citizen complaints and tips. It became clear that the mob had taken control of the industry and was extorting money from prostitutes in exchange for helping them avoid prosecution. At the outset, the investigation had focused on Dutch Schultz and his involvement but after the mob ordered his murder to prevent him from killing Dewey, attention shifted to Luciano.

With this information, raids were executed on 200 suspected brothels to gather enough information to prosecute Luciano. The resulting mass arrests led to not just prostitutes and madams being held but also some of the men who usually helped them post bond or otherwise get out of prison. Some of those who had been arrested began to offer up information about who was involved and how the racket was structured. Fleshing out the organization enabled Carter to build a case that presented Luciano as organized prostitution’s criminal mastermind operating from the shadows.

Luciano was sentenced to 30-50 years after being found guilty of 60+ counts of forced prostitution. Though Carter developed the strategy that built the case against Luciano she played no role in the actual court case. Instead, she was relegated to preparing the witnesses for court and helping to arrange for their protection. When Dewey later served as a New York District Attorney, she was appointed as New York’s first Black female assistant D.A.

After leaving public office, Carter established a private practice, and while she had aspirations to become a judge that dream never became a reality. Carter believed that she was stymied by her younger brother’s communist activities and over the years the two became estranged. She remained active with various organizations focused on racial and gender issues and received many invitations to speak. Eunice Hunton Carter died on January 25, 1970, from cancer.

Sources

  1. “Eunice Carter, Prosecutor Born.” 2022. African American Registry. February 16, 2022. https://aaregistry.org/story/crime-does-not-pay-ask-eunice-carter/.
  2. Fowler, Russell. 2019. “Eunice Carter: Trailblazing Lawyer.” Tennessee Bar Association. October 21, 2019. https://www.tba.org/?pg=Articles&blAction=showEntry&blogEntry=51159.
  3. Johnson, Constance. 2022. “The Hidden Story of the Black Woman behind the Prosecution of One of America’s Most Notorious Mob Bosses.” Oxygen. Oxygen Media LLC. March 25, 2022. https://www.oxygen.com/unsung-heroes/eunice-hunton-carter-case-against-charles-lucky-luciano.
  4. Ott, Tim. 2022. “Eunice Hunton Carter: The Woman Who Reeled in Lucky Luciano.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television. January 19, 2022. https://www.biography.com/news/eunice-hunton-carter-lucky-luciano.
  5. Smith, Christi M. 2021. “Eunice Hunton Carter (1899-1970).” Blackpast.org. July 16, 2021. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/eunice-hunton-carter-1899-1970/.
  6. Weinman, Sarah. 2018. “The Real-Life Heroine Who Inspired a Character on ‘Boardwalk Empire’.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company. December 7, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/07/books/review/invisible-stepehn-carter-eunice-hunton-carter-biography.html.

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