This Black Woman Lawyer Took Down America's Most Powerful Mafia Boss in the 1930s

Eunice Carter
Eunice Carter, born in 1899, was raised in a world of stultifying expectations about race and gender, yet by the 1940s, her professional and political successes had made her one of the most famous Black women in America.A graduate of Smith College and the granddaughter of slaves, Eunice beat all odds by becoming a Black woman prosecutor in New York City during the 1930s. However, according to Invisible, a biography written by her grandson, Stephen Carter, she really made history when she became the mastermind who came up with the strategy to take down Lucky Luciano, the most powerful Mafia boss in history. Without her genius, he would never have been convicted in 1936.

What makes her story even more historic is that when special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey selected twenty lawyers to help him clean up the city’s underworld, Eunice Carter was the only member of his team who was not a white male.

Her triumphs, however, were shadowed by prejudice and tragedy. Greatly complicating her rise was her difficult relationship with her younger brother, Alphaeus, an avowed Communist who ― together with his friend Dashiell Hammett ― would go to prison during the McCarthy era. Yet despite often finding her path blocked by the social and political expectations of her time, she never accepted defeat.

She died in 1970, but her legend remains.