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Feb 28: Brooklyn Black History Maker, Letitia James

Park Slope native Letitia James is the first woman of color to hold statewide office in New York and the first woman elected to the position of New York State Attorney General.

Letitia Ann James was born on October 18, 1958, and raised in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She is the 67th Attorney General of the state of New York. When she was elected to the position in 2018, she became the first woman of color to hold statewide office and the first female to be elected as Attorney General.

James, who prefers to be called “Tish,” is one of eight children, born to Nellie and Robert James. She went to Fort Hamilton High School in Bay Ridge and then attended Lehman College, part of the City University of New York. 

James attained her Juris Doctor degree from Howard University School of Law in Washington D.C. in 1987 before passing the state bar examination in 1989. She also has a Masters of Public Administration degree from Columbia University. 

Tish James began her influential legal and political journey as a public defender at the Legal Aid Society. At this stage, she founded the Urban Network, providing scholarships to Black students. Later, she served as counsel to state lawmakers, including Albert Vann, and acted as chief of staff to Roger Green. 

James worked under former NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, eventually becoming the assistant attorney general in Brooklyn in 1999. After an initial City Council bid in 2001, she secured the position in 2003, representing the 35th district. As a council member, she opposed Atlantic Yards' development and championed the Safe Housing Act, improving living conditions. 

Elected as Public Advocate in 2013, James made history as the first woman of color in a citywide office, passing significant legislation, including a groundbreaking law addressing the gender wage gap.

James ran for state Attorney General in 2018 and won. In her first term, her office secured more than $7.5 billion for New York from those who broke state laws and took advantage of New Yorkers, including more than $2.5 billion from opioid manufacturers and distributors for their roles in the opioid epidemic. Her office also helped remove more than 4,000 guns from New York communities, took down dozens of dangerous drug and gun trafficking rings throughout the state and took legal action to stop the proliferation of ghost guns.

In addition, her office has filed lawsuits against the National Rifle Association and looked into the state’s lack of response to COVID-19 related neglect in nursing homes. 

In October 2021, James briefly ran to be the next Governor of New York, but dropped out to instead run again as the state Attorney General, which she won in November 2022. 

During her second term, James filed a civil fraud suit against the Trump Organization, former President Donald Trump’s New York real estate business. In February 2024, James won her suit. The judge fined the organization $354 million for lying about the value of their business assets and operations and also barred the firm from doing business in New York for three years. James said she will seize the company's assets if Trump cannot pay the fine. 

“Donald Trump is finally facing accountability for his lying, cheating, and staggering fraud. Because no matter how big, rich, or powerful you think you are, no one is above the law,” James said after the ruling. 

Although James, who lives in Clinton Hill, has been a long-time public servant of the city and state, she has now made her imprint on the nation with her lawsuit against a former president. 

Letitia James, we acknowledge your unparalleled leadership and we honor your contributions to the people of Brooklyn, New York and the U.S. 

*Source, New York State Attorney General website, the New York Times, New York Magazine, CNN.

February is Black History Month! Every day this month, BK Reader will profile one Black History Maker born or raised in Brooklyn. There are countless Brooklynites- past and present- who have contributed to America's fabric as pioneers or leaders in art, entertainment, sports, science and government. This month, we present to you 28! Click here to see all of the profiles.