1911 – 1985
Leona Pouncey Thurman was the first African American woman to practice law in Kansas City. Born in Russellville, Arkansas, Thurman became interested in the legal profession after moving to Kansas City in 1931 and working as secretary for attorney James D. Pouncey, whom she married in 1937. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University in 1947 and, following the death of her husband, enrolled at Howard University School of Law. She received her degree in 1949 and opened an office at 1505 East 18th Street, focusing on criminal law and divorce cases.
Thurman’s distinguished legal career spanned 34 years. She was the first Black woman admitted to the Jackson County Bar, and also had a license to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. Thurman was an active member of the community, serving as a member of the League of Women Voters, YWCA, Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and numerous other organizations. She was also involved in efforts to revitalize the 18th and Vine jazz district, purchasing and restoring properties in the area and building a community amphitheater and park.
Thurman inspired many other Black women to enter the legal profession and was dedicated to improving the east side community where she worked and lived.