Thomas Kennedy Sampson Tompkins, established in 1971 as Kennedy Bussey & Samsung, holds the title of being the oldest black-owned law firm in the state of Georgia.
During the early 20th century, the legal profession posed significant challenges for Black individuals seeking education and professional opportunities. Discrimination and limited access to law schools created barriers for aspiring Black lawyers.
“In terms of our founding, we started in 1970. I graduated from law school, which was from the University of North Carolina. I joined the firm in late summer with John L. Kennedy and Reuben T. Bussey. They had been in practice, probably six weeks before I joined them. And the three of us were the founders of the firm,” the firm’s current managing partner, Thomas G. Sampson Sr. told The Atlanta Voice.
John L. Kennedy was the first African American lawyer hired by a downtown Atlanta law firm, Alston and Bird, which was then known as Austin Miller & Games. Kennedy had been with them two years before deciding to open up his own firm.
Reuben T. Bussey, a graduate of Morris Brown College, worked at Alston and Bird for a couple of years when he went to join Kennedy.
“As the years passed, changes occurred within the firm. Reuben Bussey died and John Kennedy died in ’94,” Sampson said.
Following the passing of Kennedy and Bussey, the firm continued onward with the introduction of Ari Thomas, a second cousin who played a role in the firm’s journey.
“He introduced me to Kennedy and helped me get started and thus the name changed to Thomas Kennedy & Sampson,” said Sampson..
The decision to prioritize Ari Thomas’ name was in recognition of his stature as a prominent Black attorney at the time. “And so that’s essentially the evolution of the firm,” Sampson told The Atlanta Voice.
The Gate City Bar Association, often referred to as the “Black bar” of Georgia, has a storied history deeply intertwined with Thomas Kennedy Sampson Tompkins. Founded in the early 1970s, the association provided a platform for Black lawyers to connect, support each other, and fight for justice.
In those early years, the number of Black lawyers was scarce, with only a handful of legal professionals available to serve the community. With a modest membership at its inception, the association has since grown significantly, reflecting the progress in the representation of Black lawyers.
Thomas Kennedy Sampson Tompkins has represented clients in cases involving excessive force, police misconduct, and constitutional violations, and the firm has made it a point in fighting for civil and human rights cases.
“I want people to know that there is a Black firm in Atlanta, an all-Black firm, where the partners are listed in Best Lawyers in America, where the partners are listed as Super Lawyers, where the partners are listed as one of the top firms by USA Today and World Report’s tier one top tier Law Firm,” said Thomas “Woody” Sampson II, a partner at Thomas Kennedy Sampson & Tompkins.