Black History Month- The Kennedys: Serving in law for more than 60 years

Black History Month- The Kennedys: Serving in law for more than 60 years
February 22
05:00 2018

When discussing American politics it is nearly impossible to overlook the impact of the Kennedy Family. For more than 60 years Washington had at least one member of the Kennedy family in public office. While the descendants of Joseph Sr. and Rose Kennedy are important to politics on the national stage, here in Winston-Salem another Kennedy family has had an even bigger impact on local laws, politics, and the civil rights movement.

In 1926, Harold Kennedy Jr. was born to Harold Sr. and Willie Hall Kennedy. As the grandson of the third president at Winston-Salem State University, Francis Marion Kennedy Sr., and also the grandson of the first African American physician in Forsyth County, Dr. H. Humphrey Hall, Harold Jr. had a lot to live up to and he did just that.

After graduating from Atkins High School in 1942, Harold earned his B.A. in history from Virginia State University. He then went on to attend Howard University where he would meet Annie Brown, a native of Atlanta, who he would marry a few years later. In 1953 after they both passed the bar examination Harold Jr. and Annie relocated to Winston-Salem where they got to work improving the quality of life of those in need.

Anne Brown Kennedy

At a place in time when segregation was still the law of the land, the Kennedys opened a law firm to stand-up when others refused. At the height of the civil rights movement the Kennedy’s handled several landmark cases including Simpkins vs. City of Greensboro, which desegregated golf courses and other public recreational facilities in the south.

While maintaining their own law firm by traveling to rural parts of NC to represent those in need, Harold Jr. and Annie still found time to be active in the community. Harold Jr. was an active member of the NAACP and founder Anne was a member of the Society for the Study of African American History.

He also took part in the founding of St. Anne Episcopal Church.

Anne, who was the second African-American woman ever licensed to practice law in the state, was a founding member of the interracial Democratic Women of Forsyth County. She remained involved with local political affairs throughout her career and in the late 1970s she was selected to the NC House of Representatives where she served for 13 years.

Around the same time Anne was making a splash on the political scene Kennedy & Kennedy, LLP grew to become Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, & Kennedy, LLP when twin brothers Harold III and Harvey joined the family business.

Following in their parents’ footsteps, after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, Harold III, went to off to study law  at the University of Michigan,  while Harvey attended Harvard Law School.

Growing up, both brothers said they always knew they would become lawyers. Harvey said he can remember his parent would come home and discuss cases with them all the time, laying the foundation for what was to come.

Harold III recalls on several occasions his parents taking him and his brother to the courthouse to sit-in on cases. “Growing up in a household where both your parents were lawyers was very unique. We would go with them to the courthouse, and we would watch trials all the time,” he said.

Harvey said the fact that his parents were his heroes growing up played a major role in his decision to become a lawyer. He said his favorite moments in the courtroom came in the early days when he had the opportunity to work with his mother in the courtroom.

“This was when we were younger lawyers and she was in the legislature at the time,” he continued. “We would have some really big trials at the time and we would bring her in and the three of us would work together. That was really a great privilege to work with her.”   

In the 1980s the law firm continued to bring forth landmark civil cases across the state, and right here in Forsyth County. In 1983 the Kennedys filed the first sexual harassment case in the state, Hogan vs. Forsyth Country Club Company.

According to Harold III at that time, the $900,000 verdict for the plaintiff was the largest civil jury verdict in the history of Forsyth County.

Today, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, & Kennedy, LLP is the oldest law firm of African American attorneys in the state. Next year the firm will celebrate its 65th anniversary. Over the years the firm has expanded to represent cases involving employment law, medical malpractice, and wrongful death cases.

“We’re very committed to continuing the legacy,” Harvey continued. “Our whole practice has been about trying to help people and making sure regular citizens in North Carolina can get justice. There are a lot of people in North Carolina who can’t get a lawyer for certain kinds of cases.”

Harold III said after watching his parents as a child and practicing law for more than 40 years himself, he has learned that sometimes you have to take on challenges to bring about real change.  He said, “We’ve made a lot of new law in NC.

“When you’re trying to protect people’s rights a lot of times you have to make the law. You have to take on novel cases and make the law. Sometimes you may have to go to the NC Supreme Court before you can go back trail these cases.”

Harold Kennedy Jr. passed away in 2005. Friends and family remembered him as a quiet man who was fine with working behind-the-scenes during, arguable, the most important time in African American History.

At the young age of 93, Anne Brown Kennedy is still living here in Winston-Salem. Although she isn’t able to make it to the law firm or the courthouse on a regular basis, she still lends her expertise to her sons when needed. The Kennedys’ youngest son, Michael Kennedy, practices law as well.

“She’s 93 but her mind is still real sharp,” Harold III said. “She still remembers a great deal about these cases so we talk to her all the time. She’s always has some good insight.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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