Marian Miner Cook

A distinctive
feature of social and
cultural life at CMC


AthDocs: The Trials of Constance Baker Motley

Wed, October 4, 2023
Dinner Program
Joel Motley, Producer

Join the Athenaeum for the inaugural event of the new series, "AthDocs," featuring thought-provoking and incisive documentaries and conversations with filmmakers. Joel Motley, son of civil rights activist Constance Baker Motley and producer of the award-winning short documentary The Trials of Constance Baker Motley (2015), joins CMC for a screening and discussion (watch the trailer here).

At the height of the civil rights movement, Constance Baker Motley joined the NAACP’s legal team. The only woman in the group, she left her husband and infant son in New York for weeks at a time to represent the NAACP in Southern courts. The first female Black lawyer Southern judges and juries had seen, she stunned them by winning case after case—gaining the right for Black students to enter Ole Miss, the University of Georgia, and Clemson College.

After the assassination of one of her closest friends, Motley returned to New York—and went on to become the first Black woman NY State Senator, the first Black Woman Manhattan Borough President, and, with the backing of Lyndon Johnson, the first Black woman named to a federal judgeship.

With archival footage and narration in Motley’s own voice, The Trials of Constance Baker Motley tells the story of a civil rights leader who met prejudice and danger with elegance and humor. 

Constance Baker Motley (1921 - 2005) was a pioneering civil rights activist, and the first Black woman to argue before the US Supreme Court, winning nine of the ten landmark civil rights cases she argued. As a key member of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), she wrote the original complaint in Brown v. Board of Education. She is also the subject of the highly praised new biography, Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality (2022), by Harvard law professor and Dean of the Radcliffe Institute Tomiko Brown-Nagin.

Joel Motley, producer of this film, began his career in investment banking at Lazard Freres & Co. He then became a Managing Director of Carmona Motley Inc., providing financial advice to municipalities around the United States. He then founded Public Capital Advisors LLC which provided advice to emerging market governments on infrastructure finance in China, Colombia and Kazakhstan. 

Prior to investment banking, Mr. Motley served as an aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, serving as chief of the Senator’s staff in New York City and surrounding counties. Mr. Motley joined the Senate staff after five years of corporate law practice which he began at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. 

He has served as a director of the Oppenheimer Funds board, and he was Chairman of the New York board when Oppenheimer Funds merged into Invesco Funds. Mr. Motley now serves as a director of Invesco Mutual Funds, and is Chairman of the Board of the Federal Home Loan Bank System.

Mr. Motley is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and is Chairman Emeritus of the board of Human Rights Watch. He serves on the boards of the Greenwall Foundation, the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting and Historic Hudson Valley. 

Born in New York City, Mr. Motley graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and received his JD from Harvard Law School.

Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum

Claremont McKenna College
385 E. Eighth Street
Claremont, CA 91711


Phone: (909) 621-8244 
Fax: (909) 621-8579