The African-American Legal Diva of New York Crime
Eunice Hunton Carver (1899-1970) was the first female African American lawyer and first prosecutor of color in the United States. Born in 1899, in Atlanta to William Alpheus and Addie Hunton, who were both social work activist in the NAACP, and YMCA. Because of the Atlanta race riots of 1906, the family moved to Brooklyn. Eunice also worked in aiding her mother in Harlem in social work for the advancement of women.
In 1921 Eunice earned both her bachelor's and master's from Smith College but then decided to go to law school at Fordham College. She graduated from Fordham as the first African American woman to graduate from Fordham. While at Smith College it was then Governor Calvin Coolidge who began mentoring and advising her and remained her friend for years.
Crime in New York in the 1930s and 40s
The criminal elements in New York were getting out of hand, and Mayor LaGuardia selected Thomas E. Dewey as special prosecutor to address the crime and mafia. Dewey hired a task force of nineteen white male lawyers and one female lawyer, African American Eunice Carter. For the most part, Eunice was ignored and relegated to a back corner, and because she was a woman, her job would be to research prostitution.
Even though she hit obstacles of race and gender, she systematically began compiling statistics from prostitutes and madams. Eunice field thousands of calls and interviews with the girls and began seeing a pattern. She determined that Lucky Luciano was taking a kickback from the girls and madames. Convincing Dewey of her case, raids were set up for over 80 disorderly houses with 160 uniformed officers and arresting 60 prostitutes.
Lucky was charged with community prostitution, and a trial was set for May 1936. As the jury was reading it's GUILTY verdict, the word guilty was read 558 times. Lucky Luciano was sentenced to 30-50 years in prison. It was because of Eunice's tenacity and skill Lucky was found guilty and sentenced. And, all the time, not one of the nineteen white male lawyers could connect him to any crime.
Aftermath of Lucky Luciano Trial
Because of the success and notoriety of the biggest trial at the time, Thomas Dewey, now known as the "Gangbuster," entered into politics and was elected governor of New York. He went on to fame and fortune, never really giving Eunice full credit for her skill as an assistant district attorney. Dewey did attempt to run for president but was unsuccessful. Lucky Luciano served only ten years when the U.S. government had a deal for him. New York Harbor had to be guarded during WWII, and since Luciano still controlled the docks, they would set him free on the condition that he would be deported back to Italy. Of course, Lucky took the deal, and by a twist of fate, Governor Dewey pardoned him.
Eunice continued her work in the district attorney's office and when her brother. W. Alphaeus Carter, an author, academic, and activist, became involved with his fervent beliefs of communism. He was arrested and sent to prison, only serving six months and released. He and his wife settled in Zambia, where he died in 1970. Eunice was convinced her political aspirations were forever denied because of her brother. She had dreams of becoming a judge, but she knew it would never happen since she was connected to her brother, even though they never spoke again after his arrest.
Yet, with all the glory Dewey received, Eunice seems to have been forgotten for the pivotal role she played in bringing the mob boss down. She served as a consultant to the United Nations and in the International Council of women.
Lucky was, in fact, deported, as stated in his plea agreement. He died of a heart attack in Italy on January 26, 1962, but was allowed to be buried in New York. He is buried in the Luciano Mausoleum in St. John's Cemetery, Queens, New York.
Stephen L. Carter, Grandson of Eunice Carter
Stephen L. Carter, an American lawyer, and professor at Yale College has authored several books, but the latest,invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down the Most Powerful Mobster. His book won the Nation Book Award from the New York Society Library. Stephen tells the true and heartwarming story of his grandmother and her quest for justice and her love of the law.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on January 19, 2021:
Rosina, thank you for your generous comments. I appreciate your visit.
Rosina S Khan on January 18, 2021:
I am glad of the contributions this outstanding lady made because of her quest of justice and love of law. I am even more pleased that her grandson wrote a book about her, earning him a prestigious award. Thank you, Fran, for sharing this amazing article.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on January 18, 2021:
Liz, I so value your visit. She truly deserved more credit yet she continued to strive for women. Thanks again.
Liz Westwood from UK on January 18, 2021:
This is a fascinating biographical account of an amazing lady.