The Prosecutor Is a Lady: Black Women Take the Helm as Top Federal Lawyers in Four Southern States

By Haynes, Karima A. | Ebony, June 1994 | Go to article overview

The Prosecutor Is a Lady: Black Women Take the Helm as Top Federal Lawyers in Four Southern States


Haynes, Karima A., Ebony


VICKI Miles-LaGrange was listening to the debate on the floor of the Oklahoma State Senate in the summer of 1993 when one of her legislative aides handed her a note telling her that U.S. Sen. David Boren, D-Okla., was holding on the telephone in her of fice and that he wanted to speak with her right away.

Miles-LaGrange, a state senator, routinely talked to Boren and other members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation about issues affecting her district. While the call may not have been out of the ordinary, what he had to say was. Without missing a beat, Boren asked Miles-LaGrange, "How would you like to be U.S. attorney?"

In an instant, Miles-LaGrange's academic and professional lives passed before her eyes. She recalled her childhood days in segregated Oklahoma City public schools, her college years at Vassar in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and her foreign studies at the University of Ghana in Legon, Ghana, West Africa. She remembered her challenging law school days at Howard University and her legislative internship on Capitol Hill in the mid-1970s. She also recalled her work as a prosecutor in the Oklahoma County district attorney's office before her upset victory over a 22-year incumbent in her successful bid for a seat in the state senate.

"When he said what he said, I mean, there was a real pregnant pause in the conversation," Miles-LaGrange recalls of the conversation. "He said, ,Vicki, are you still there?, I told him I was and that I would be absolutely honored to serve, and asked if I had to tell him right then. He told me to think it over and that we would talk again."

That conversation touched off a whirlwind of questions for the 40-year-old lawyer. Should she leave the state senate where she had served with passion and purpose for five years? Should she give up her private law practice where she spent hours upon hours untangling the legal problems of her clients? Was the U.S. Attorney's position a way for her to impact people's lives in a positive way?

After talking about the offer with her family and friends, and after a considerable amount of prayer, Miles-LaGrange agreed to accept the appointment as U.S. Attorney of the Western District of Oklahoma. Her nomination was approved by President Clinton and the U.S. Senate. She was sworn in on Sept. 27, 1993.

Miles-LaGrange is one of four African-American women named by President Clinton to serve as U.S. attorneys in Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee and North Carolina. Their appointments are evidence of the Clinton Administration's commitment to build an administration that reflects the diversity of the U.S. population. With wit and wisdom, these outstanding professionals are riding the crest of a wave to bring ethnic diversity into an of fice once reserved for White males.

As the chief federal law enforcement officers for their districts, these women oversee multi-million-dollar budgets, staffs of hundreds of federal prosecutors and support personnel, and the administration of federal funds for local crime prevention programs. They are responsible for representing 23 federal agencies, including the FBI, IRS, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, customs and the border patrol. In recent years, federal prosecutors have played a major role in the prosecution of several high-profile cases, including the Rodney King civil rights case in Los Angeles and the Branch Davidian case in Waco, Texas.

The political changes ushered in by the Clinton Administration also landed Veronica Coleman in the office of U.S. attorney of the Western District of Tennessee. With the sponsorship of U.S. Sen. James R. Sasser, D-Tenn., and the support of a grassroots letter-writing campaign, the 49-year-old divorced mother of three sons took the oath of of fice on Oct.18,1993.

Like numerous professional Black women who are charting their courses through a turbulent sea of racism and sexism in the workplace, Coleman faced naysayers who believed that a woman doesn't have what it takes to maintain law and order. …

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