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The Honorable Terri A. Sewell

Lawyer and political official Terri A. Sewell was born on January 1, 1965 in Huntsville, Alabama to Andrew A. Sewell and Nancy Gardner Sewell. She graduated from Selma High School in 1982, and received her B.A. degree from Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey in 1986. In 1988, Sewell received her M.A. degree from Oxford University. She then went on to attend Harvard Law School, where she earned her J.D. degree in 1992.

Sewell began her political career working for Congressman Richard Shelby and Senator Howell Helfin. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Sewell served as a law clerk to Chief Judge U.W. Clemon of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. In 1994, Sewell began working at the law firm of Davis, Polk, & Wardwell, where she served as a securities lawyer for more than a decade. She returned to Alabama in 2004 and took a position as partner at the law offices of Maynard, Cooper, & Gale, P.C. Sewell distinguished herself as one of the few African American public finance lawyers in the State of Alabama. Her clients included the City of Selma, Dallas County Water Authority, Alabama State University, and Stillman College. In 2010, Sewell was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a representative from Alabama’s 7th District and as the first African American woman to serve in the Alabama Congressional delegation. Sewell was reelected to the House of Representatives three more times.

Sewell has served in numerous organizations, including as the chair and treasurer of St. Vincent’s Foundation’s board, as a board member of the Girl Scouts of Cahaba Council, as a board member of the Alabama Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, on the Community Advisory Board for the University of Alabama-Birmingham Minority Health and Research Center, on the Governing Board of the Alabama Council on Economic Education, and as a member of the Corporate Council for the Birmingham Art Museum. Sewell has also provided free legal services to the homeless, mentored girls of color through Dreams into Action, and served on the Alumni Advisory Board of Sponsors of Educational Opportunity.

Sewell has been awarded for her successful career and contributions to her community. In 2005, she was named one of the “Top Birmingham Women” by the Birmingham Business Journal. Sewell has also been listed in the magazine, Alabama Super Lawyers, and was named a “Woman of Influence” by Alabama Today. She was also awarded the Minority Business Rising Star Award by the Birmingham Business Journal in 2007.

Terri A. Sewell was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 3, 2017.

Accession Number

A2017.096

Sex

Female

Interview Date

05/05/2017

Last Name

Sewell

Maker Category
Middle Name

A.

Schools

Cedar Park Elementary School

R.B. Hudson Middle School

Selma High School

Princeton University

University of Oxford

Harvard Law School

First Name

Terri

Birth City, State, Country

Huntsville

HM ID

SEW01

Favorite Season

Spring, Fall

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

Beach

Favorite Quote

As A Person Thinks So Is He.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Alabama

Birth Date

1/1/1965

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Birmingham

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken, Smothered Pork Chops

Short Description

Lawyer and political official Terri A. Sewell (1965 - ) was partner at the Birmingham law firm of Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C. and was the first African American woman to serve in the Alabama delegation of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Employment

Morgan Stanley

Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, LLP

State of Alabama

Firstone Library

U.S. Congress

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Terri A. Sewell's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell talks about how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell describes her mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell talks about her maternal family's roots in Lowndes County, Alabama

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell lists her mother's siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell describes her father's early influences

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell talks about her father's legacy

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell lists her father's siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell describes the sights and sounds of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell describes her parents' betrothal

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell lists her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her family's reasons for moving to Selma, Alabama

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell describes her home in Selma, Alabama

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her twin brothers' mischief making

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell recalls the start of her education

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her community in Selma, Alabama

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers Cedar Park Elementary School in Selma, Alabama

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers the civil rights leaders in her community in Selma, Alabama

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell recalls visiting the Selma Public Library

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell talks about her early interest in reading

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell recalls her extracurricular activities

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell recalls trying to fit in at Westside Junior High School in Selma, Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers losing her academic awards because of poor conduct

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell describes her achievements at Selma High School in Selma, Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell talks about her mother's influence

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell recalls being approached by Julian McPhillips

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her admission to Princeton University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her early interest in law

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers enrolling at Princeton University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell recalls being elected vice president of her freshman class

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her friendship with Michelle Obama

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell talks about her summer employment on Capitol Hill

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her time at Princeton University

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell recalls her graduation from Princeton University

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her bachelor's thesis

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers enrolling at the University of Oxford

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her production of 'For Colored Girls' at the University of Oxford

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers publishing her master's thesis

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell recalls her experiences at Harvard Law School

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers protesting for a black female professor at Harvard Law School

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her deferment from Harvard Law School

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell recalls her work after completing her law degree

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her clerkship under Judge U. W. Clemon, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her clerkship under Judge U. W. Clemon, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

9$8

DATitle
The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers the civil rights leaders in her community in Selma, Alabama
The Honorable Terri A. Sewell remembers her clerkship under Judge U. W. Clemon, pt. 2
Transcript
(Simultaneous) Did you have any black friends?$$ I did. I had lots of black friends who were usually friends--they were usually children of my parents' friends. Remember my parents [Nancy Gardner Sewell and Andrew Sewell] were, my parents were educators in the school system. And, and I think middle class black Selma [Alabama] were educators, they were teachers, they were, they worked for the government. They were preachers. And, and so growing up I, I don't think I really realized how poor, or (pronunciation) poor my parents were until I went to Princeton [Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey]. I kind of grew up thinking that we were doing okay (laughter). And, because my parents were well respected in the community, I didn't feel like there were any limitations on my ability to do or be anything. That's a real credit to my parents. But, it's also a credit to the community that nurtured me, and that, that community re- consisted of blacks and whites. And so yeah, so I can remember when the Cedar Park [Cedar Park Elementary School, Selma, Alabama] was integrated. And I also--it's interesting to me, my, my sixth grade teacher was Miss Jackson [Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson]. Well, Miss Jackson I, I grow up to learn that Miss Jackson and her husband [Sullivan Jackson] would entertain Martin Luther King [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] in their house. And Miss Jackson's house was where they gathered to, to you know, to really map the march from Selma [Alabama] to Montgomery [Alabama]. (Gesture) Miss Jackson mi- Jean Jackson my--Jean Jackson who taught me in sixth grade. It's interesting that you can live your life surrounded by people who are legendary in the Civil Rights Movement. I guess growing up in Selma that's, that's--I'm--it never ceases to amaze me to find out about the people who I saw as teachers and my preacher [at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, Selma, Alabama] or my you know, the, you know the grocery store owners. And to find out that they were iconic or, or very pivotal in the Civil Rights Movement.$And I took serious when he said, "We're the judge," and he said, "I want you all to brief, brief me on the trials that are coming up." And one of the things that the federal judges have to do, they have to review the social security cases that are on appeals. And so, it's mostly about disability. And I will never forget spending a whole weekend on the first case that I had to brief him on. I concluded that the person who was the plaintiff could walk. That the person did not deserve to have disab- disability insurance. Because, because this, while the doctors all said it in favor of her, I found this special piece of evidence and 'cause I had spent all weekend long trying to. And you know, Judge Clemon [HistoryMaker U.W. Clemon] just, he was awesome. I come in with this you know, twenty page opinion about a social security case, that I had worked all weekend long. And my conclusion was that the lower court, the, had was, you know, the administrative court had--findings were true and that she should be denied social security benefits, disability benefits. So, he looks at me he says, "Sewell [HistoryMaker Terri A. Sewell]," he looks, peers over his glass he says, "I have three questions for you. First, did you go to medical school? What medical degree do you have? Second question, in all of this evidence that you poured over was there medical proof that she had had a disability? That she was disabled?" I said, "Well yes, her doctor said this, but this doctor said that and this nurse said that. This doctor--," so I'm trying to make up. And he says he stops me and he says, "And my final question, how many years did she work for this company? Twenty-three." He closed his book, he closed my, he took my paper and put it in his file, closed the file and he said, "Give the woman her money." The lesson I learned, aside from that I didn't need to spend a whole weekend on a social security case, the lesson I learned was that tremendous power in being a judge and we see evidence, facts through the lenses of our own experience. And that it matters who's, who our judges are. Diversity on the bench is important, diversity not only in gender and race, but in experience. Having someone who's been a public defender as a federal judge or as a [U.S.] Supreme Court justice is important. We see, we see and review facts and evidence I mean, through the lens by which we live our life. So, having judges and having lawyers and having them with different backgrounds and experiences matters. There's a lot that Judge Clemon taught me but I learned a lot that day. And I'm very blessed my dad [Andrew Sewell] had a series of strokes that left him in a wheelchair and I can truly say for the fifteen years that my dad was unable to put up curtains or hang pictures that Judge Clemon really stood, stood in the gap. And I'm very grateful to him for that. And so, when I decided to run for [U.S.] Congress there were two people that I talked to about it before I made my mind up and Judge Clemon was one of them. And he stood by me even thought that I was--that I was raising way too much money and not shaking enough hands. Very--he was very old school politician shaking enough hands, and meeting enough people, knocking on enough doors. Not--I didn't have a big enough sign out there. And he hung in there with me. And I'm a member of Congress today because my mentor believed in me and didn't leave me, didn't leave me all those thirty years ago when I was a law intern, and he hasn't left me now, and I feel very blessed to have him as a, as a, as a mentor and as a, as a, a real father figure.