- She was the first black woman ever to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. In Meredith v. Fair she successfully won James Meredith's effort to be the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi.
- She attended Fisk University, then graduated from New York University in 1943, then received her law degree from Columbia Law School in 1946.
- Her legal career began as a law clerk in the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). She was LDF's first female attorney, and she became associate counsel to the LDF, making her the NAACP's lead trial attorney.
- Motley wrote the original complaint in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, in 1950.
- In 1964, Motley became the first black woman elected to the New York State Senate.
- In 1965, she was chosen Manhattan Borough President — the first woman in that position.
- In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson named her a federal court judge, making her the first black woman named to that position.
- In 1982, she became the first black woman to serve as chief judge for a federal court.
You can read more about her here and here, and read her obituary in the New York Times here.