Success Stories By Dick Kazan - Valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable
lessons on how to succeed in business and in life.
The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on October 24, 2006

Are other people stopping you from becoming successful?

If so, I’d like to tell you about Cora Walker, who overcame racial and gender bigotry and poverty to become one of the first black women to practice law in the state of New York.

Born to a poor family in 1922, Walker was raised in the Bronx, New York.

Life for Walker got even tougher during The Great Depression when her father left the family of nine children, which forced her mother to go on public assistance.

Jobs were in short supply especially for blacks, who were often excluded from everything but the most menial work. And many schools wouldn’t admit them, most neighborhoods didn’t want them, nor did most hotels and restaurants welcome them as guests.

After her high school graduation, despite the scarcity of jobs and the wide-scale prejudice against blacks, Walker managed to get a night job as a Western Union teletype operator.

It wasn’t glamorous but Walker made enough money to support her family and she took them off of public assistance. She was just a kid and though she didn’t complain, time and again she must have cried out to herself, “Why me?”

Despite her family obligations and long work hours at Western Union, Walker was determined to build a professional career. Though it seemed impossible; she proceeded anyway by starting a six-year program at St. John’s University in which students earned a bachelor’s degree and a law degree.

Now Walker was a full-time student and a full-time employee and rode the subway trains to get from one distant place to the other. In exhaustion, she’d often fall asleep but other passengers would wake her at each of her stops.

It was tough but Walker was up to the challenge.

Then she ran smack into another problem, the prejudice against women.

Right after she started college, the Dean assembled all the freshmen. Speaking to the few ladies who’d been accepted into the class, he said, “There are five seats that should be filled by others. You’re all just here to get husbands.”

In other words, those few women who’d overcome gender bias and scholastically had earned the right to be there had taken the seats that rightfully should have gone to men.

Although the Dean thought it was a waste of resources to educate women, Walker pursued her degrees. Ironically, the other four ladies did get married and they dropped out.

Not Walker. In 1945, she earned her degree in accounting and a year later, her law degree.

With the end of World War 2 the Economy boomed, but not for most blacks including Walker. She was admitted to the New York bar in 1947 but being black and being a woman, no-one would hire her. However, one law firm did offer to employ her as a secretary.

It became clear, if she wanted to be an attorney, she’d have to start her own firm, which she did in Harlem.

Up to this point, Walker attained what she did on sheer grit and hard work. But to succeed with a law practice, she’d need clients.

This meant she’d have to develop and polish her people skills. Walker began reading self-help books and to “join everything, give everybody a card, join political clubs,” she told The New York Times in 1989.

By meeting people a few at a time in organizations, it wasn’t so intimidating. Greeting them with a smile, taking an interest in them and listening to what they had to say made her popular.

And with her popularity, Walker’s self-confidence grew and so did her law practice.

Walker’s clients eventually included such giants as Amtrak, the Ford Motor Company and Texas Instruments but they also included the people in Harlem, for whom she had a deep compassion.

Walker, who recently passed away at 84, was married to (and divorced from) the late Lawrence R. Bailey, Sr., also an attorney. The couple had two children.

In the latter 23 years of her career up to her retirement in 1999, she was senior partner of the law firm of Walker & Bailey, the Bailey being one of her two sons, Lawrence R. Bailey, Jr.

Her other son Bruce E. Bailey, is a Doctor.

Walker didn’t let other people and difficult circumstances stop her from becoming successful nor do you have to.

Among the lessons we can learn from her are:

1) It’s essential to know what you want and to work hard to attain it. Good fortune is far more likely to greet those who attract it by their actions.

2) Ignore the skepticism of others. That they don’t believe in you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. No-one else but you understands the depth of your capability, your determination to educate yourself and your level of commitment to overcome the road blocks you face.

3) Even if you’re shy, a warm smile, a firm handshake and taking a sincere interest in others can make you popular. And people do business with or give promotions to those they like.

Success Tip of the Week: Try these lessons at work or in an organization you belong to and see the difference the results will soon make for you.

Editor's Note: Thank you to her sons, Lawrence and Bruce for their help in preparing this story.

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Many of these short stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!