An attorney and judge, Anna Diggs Taylor was the first African-American woman appointed to a federal judgeship in Michigan and later became the first African-American woman to be named chief federal judge in the Eastern District of Michigan. Taylor has used her positions to advance civil rights throughout the United States .
Born Anna Katherine Johnston in 1932 in Washington , D.C., Taylor grew up in a household in which politics and civil rights were highly valued. Her parents sent her to private school in Massachusetts because they felt she needed a greater challenge than the local schools provided. She graduated in 1950 from Northfield School for Girls in Massachusetts and then enrolled at Barnard College where she earned a B.A. in Economics. She entered Yale University Law School and earned her law degree in 1957. After graduation she could not find a job in a private law firm due to the prejudices against African Americans and women. She found work as a solicitor for the Department of Labor, working under J. Ernest Wilkins, the first African American to hold a sub-cabinet post in the United States government. In 1960 Taylor married United States Representative Charles Diggs, Jr., and she moved to Detroit .
After moving to Detroit , Taylor worked for a year as an assistant county prosecutor in Wayne County . In 1964 she spent the summer in Mississippi as part of the National Lawyers Guild civil rights program to provide legal services for civil rights activists, arriving on the day that three civil rights workers disappeared in Philadelphia , Mississippi . When Taylor and other attorneys went to the sheriff's office to ask about the disappearance they were surrounded by a crowd of angry whites, who hurled racial epithets at Taylor and her companions. In 1966 Taylor became assistant United States attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
After the birth of her daughter, she worked managing her husband's Detroit office until their divorce in 1971. From 1970 to 1975 she was a partner in the law firm Zwerdling, Mauer, Diggs, and Papp. In 1976 she married S. Martin Taylor. Taylor became active in politics, helping Coleman Young in his 1973 campaign and Jimmy Carter in his 1976 victory. After Young's election, Taylor was named special counsel to the City of Detroit and then in 1975 accepted the full time position as assistant corporation counsel for the city. She successfully defended new city policies that established affirmative action hiring practices and outlawed discrimination in two private yacht clubs located on city-owned Belle Isle. Taylor became the first African-American women named to a Michigan federal court on November 15, 1979, when she was sworn in as a federal judge to the U.S. District Court for the Eastren District of Michigan. In 1997 she became the first African-American woman to be named chief judge of Eastern District of the United States District Court. In 1998 Taylor stepped down as chief judge in order to reduce her workload. She continued to serve as a senior federal judge.