Sunday Spotlight: Dovey Johnson Roundtree

Posted on March 13, 2016 By

Dovey Johnson Roundtree! Classy, courageous and curiously called!


Graphic by Tee LaFrance Todd – © 2016 Curionomastics

After visiting the Levine Museum in Charlotte, NC, I became interested in the woman whose unusual name headed a few of the blurbs found in some of the exhibits. Upon researching her later, I promptly marveled at her incredible lifetime achievements and unwavering fortitude in the face of adversity.


An inspiration to all women, Dovey Johnson Roundtree is a civil rights activist, attorney, and ordained minister, among other roles, including centenarian. Inspired by Mary McLeod Bethune, Dovey was among the first of the black women officers making up the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1941. She graduated from Howard University School of Law and won a landmark case in her first year of legal practice that was the first bus desegregation case brought before the Interstate Commerce Commission. She also became one of the first women of the African Methodist Episcopal Church to achieve ministerial status.

In 2009 Michelle Obama lauded her: “It is on the shoulders of people like Dovey Johnson Roundtree that we stand today, and it is with her commitment to our core ideals that we will continue moving toward a better tomorrow.” So it is that the First Lady commended the ultimate Lady of Firsts.

Dovey’s Trivia Trio:

Justice Older...

  1. Her book, Justice Older than the Law: The Life of Dovey Johnson Roundtree was co-written by Katie McCabe and won the 2009 Letitia Woods Brown Award from the Association of Black Women Historians.
  2. For a fee of one dollar, she took on the case of Ray Crump, who was accused of murdering Mary Pinchot Meyer in the early 1960s and succeeded in clearing his name.
  3. The television show “Sweet Justice” starring Cicely Tyson featured a maverick civil rights lawyer that was inspired by Dovey Johnson Roundtree.



Dovey is such a sweet name, but there’s a certain strength behind it, too. Originally born Dovey Mae Johnson, it seems quite apt that she was named after the dove, a symbol for peace and hope. Dove itself has been used as a first name since the seventeenth century, but the pet form, Dovey, adds a little more spunk.

Johnson is a patronymic name that literally means ‘son of John’ and is of Anglo-Scottish medieval origin. Very common today, its syllables sit nicely between the nature names of Dovey and Roundtree.

Roundtree is a topographical surname of English origin, and crops up around the early medieval period. Topographical surnames were among the earliest created since both natural and man-made features in the landscape provided easily recognizable distinguishing names in the small communities of the Middle Ages.” Variant spellings are Rountree, Roantree, and Rowantree. This particular last name “rounds” out the natural quality of Dovey and enhances the more common Johnson.


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