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Legal Papers of Dallas Nicholas and William Gosnell   Tags: special collections  

Information on an archival collection of the business and legal papers of two twentieth century African American attorneys, Dallas Nicholas and William Gosnell. Finding aid is available for onsite use only.
Last Updated: Oct 5, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Legal And Archival Materials

A complete inventory available upon request, please contact Special Collections for more information.  Material is arranged and labeled in the original filing order by cabinet (left to right) and drawer (top to bottom). While a chronological arrangement generally predominates, there is, as the business of particular clients ebbed and flowed, some interfiling of materials. 

Divorce. For the firm of Nicholas and Gosnell, family law comprised a large part of the caseload. As a result, both attorneys handled numerous divorce requests, from clients both in-state and out-of-state. The collection reflects the vast range of issues faced in dealing with a divorce case.

Personal Injury. When they started their practice in 1935, personal injury and workman's compensation claims comprised a small portion of Nicholas and Gosnell's workload. One company, the Baltimore Transit Company, appears repeatedly in this collection as a legal party. An example of a personal injury case involving the Baltimore Transit Company is that of Emma G. Arrington vs the Mayor and City Council. Mrs. Arrington was injured when she slipped and fell at a public bus stop. The case file includes her initial claim statement documentation reporting the incident to the Baltimore Transit Company, the original defendant. The Transit Company denied responsibility, forcing Gosnell to look to the city of Baltimore as the responsible party.

Estate Administration and Probate Law. Nicholas and Gosnell's estate administration and probate law cases reflect the giving practices of some African Americans in Baltimore. For example, there are insurance policies made out to various organizations as beneficiaries, including the Odd Fellows Mutual Endowment Association. This particular bequest allowed William Gosnell to locate Mr.Tinsdale's heir and to distribute additional funds to settle the estate.

When closing out the estate of another client, William Gosnell discovered the person's enlistment record, for service performed during World War I. Gosnell used this information to locate military death benefits for the decedent's heirs. Other details can be learned from this document including the client's date of enlistment, July 15, 1918; his rank of Noncommissioned officer; his company, the 13th Service Company; his civilian occupation of painter; pertinent medical information, marital status, and physical description.

Example of listing of 'Colored Homes' dated May 28, 1951Real Estate Business. Many attorneys of this era were also real estate agents and participated in a variety of real estate businesses. Property management, mortgage financing, selling or purchasing property were all areas in which these attorneys dealt. One example of this business is an expense sheet from the estate of Dr. William C. McCard, father of Nicholas' first wife, Grace "Chita" McCard. Dr. McCard was a successful physician with a practice in Baltimore. In addition to his practice, Dr. McCard owned 23 rental properties, managed by his son-in-law Dallas F. Nicholas. This expense sheet is from the period following the doctor's death and lists all of his properties and the income and expenses of each.

Baltimore's real estate market operated under Jim Crow Laws well into the 1970s. African Americans were not allowed to move into predominately white areas and vice versa. In order to facilitate this separation, there were listings for homes available to both races with African Americans forced to rely on the "Colored Homes Listing." Nicholas and Gosnell would have used lists such as this to guide prospective homeowners in their choices.

Income Tax Preparation. This service was a staple for attorneys Nicholas and Gosnell. They provided tax services such as preparation, to private individuals as well as businesses. Many of their customers were regulars who returned again and again, sometimes for decades.


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