In 1960, five African-American attorneys gathered for the express purpose of sharing ideas, knowledge, and experiences pertaining to the day-to-day, hands-on practice of law in Memphis and Shelby County. For years, the group operated with no particular name or regular schedule and simply met informally as necessary. But these men remained united by a singular purpose: to gather legal knowledge and create a sense of community and camaraderie among the small number of African-American attorneys in Shelby County at that time.
The first meeting was held on a Sunday afternoon at the office of then attorney, now retired Judge, the Honorable H.T. Lockard, who coined the idea to meet on a regular basis as a “study club” to discuss various experiences concerning the practice of law. The attorneys present at the initial meeting included James Estes, S.A. Wilbun, Ben F. Jones, and Rev. Dr. Benjamin Hooks, who went on to lead the NAACP as Executive Director for 15 years. In later years, other prominent local attorneys including Russell Sugarmon, A.W. Willis, James Swearengen, Ira Murphy, Johnny Johnson, and Arthur Bennett joined the distinguished group. Many members of this group later became judges, politicians, and respected business and civic leaders within the community.
In 1966, the Ben F. Jones Chapter of the National Bar Association was officially formed, with the help of Johnny Johnson. The Chapter was so named to commemorate the founding member who had passed away suddenly that same year. Today, the chapter is composed of more than 300 attorneys in Memphis and Shelby County. The Ben F. Jones Chapter is an affiliate chapter of the National Bar Association, the oldest and largest association of attorneys of color in the world. Founded in 1925, the NBA is currently headquartered in Washington, D.C. The association has 88 affiliate chapters and represents over 20,000 lawyers, judges, and law students globally.