Annie Virginia Stephens Coker (1903-1986), B.S. '24, J.D. '29

Annie Virginia Stephens CokerAnnie Virginia Stephens was born in Oakland in 1903. Her father William Stephens, was a native of Virginia who moved to California and became a successful business owner. He met and married Paulina Stephens and Annie was their only child. The family owned Stephens Restaurant on East 14th Avenue in Oakland which was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s. At the age of fourteen, Stephens won local acclaim when her idea to name the buildings of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition “Jewel City” was selected over 13,000 entries. The competition was sponsored by the San Francisco Call newspaper. The committee only found out that she was a little “colored” girl, after they had made their selection, as mentioned in Delilah Beasley’s epic work, The Negro Trailblazers of California.[1] This early notoriety would be a foretelling of things to come.

Stephens graduated from High School in Pacific Grove, California in 1921. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree at UC Berkeley in 1924, and was then encouraged by her father to continue her studies at the Boalt School of Law. Stephens was one of two women in the class of 47 students, earning her Law degree in 1929, the same year her mother Paulina died. Stephens was the first African American woman who completed the program and passed the California State Bar in the same year. True to the times, most law firms in California in the 1930s were not hiring African American attorneys – and certainly not female ones. She moved to Alexandria, Virginia and had a private law practice there for almost ten years. As opportunities improved, she returned to California in 1939 and joined the State Office of Legislative Counsel as junior deputy legislative counsel. Remembered as an inspiring presence, she worked there until her retirement in 1966 and died at the age of 83 in 1986.

Photo from the Blue and Gold Yearbook, 1924

[1] The Negro Trail Blazers of California, Delilah L. Beasley, 1919, 302