Charlotte’s top prosecutors aim to pave way for Black people in law

CHARLOTTE — The U.S. Attorney for western North Carolina and the Mecklenburg County District Attorney have something in common, and it’s more than just their love for the law.

They’re both firsts in their offices.

As Channel 9 celebrates Black History Month, reporter Hunter Sáenz sat down with both Dena King and Spencer Merriweather to discuss their journeys and their efforts to make sure more people of color rise to the same roles.

King grew up in south Charlotte, with parents who pushed her as much as they supported her.

“I came from humble beginnings,” King told Sáenz. “One of the things that my mom and dad had always told me, even as a kid, is that I was created to stand out. Growing up, I did not know any attorneys, especially not any attorneys of color or any attorneys that were women.”

Instead, her inspiration came from television, growing up watching lawyer Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.”

The Cosby Show, Courtesy: YouTube

“That was the first time I’ve ever seen an African American woman, a woman that looked like me, in a professional light,” King said. “She wore a suit, she had a briefcase, she went to work every day, she was a mom, she was a wife. That’s not the way African American women, in particular, were shown on television.”

King knew she wanted to be just like Clair, and she went for it.

She graduated with her law degree from North Carolina Central University, and landed her first job at the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office.

Eventually became the first person of color to be appointed the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina in 2021.

Dena King

Now, King is leading prosecutors in federal court.

“I think that at any given time, people should look like everyone,” King said. “Whatever the role is, to make sure that we’re all doing our part to diversify the legal profession.”

Current Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather agrees.

“The question that I think we want to make sure that we’re keeping an eye on is do our people feel represented by what they see in their criminal justice system?” Merriweather told Sáenz.

Merriweather is the first African American to hold his office, and he doesn’t take that honor lightly.

“I was someone who was fortunate enough, again, given an opportunity, and charged with making the most of it,” Merriweather said. “This trail was blazed for me to arrive at this moment.”

Merriweather grew up in Mobile, Alabama, born to parents who were public school educators. He went to Princeton University and later received his law degree from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Spencer Merriweather at graduation

“What I found when I was exposed to this work was just how impactful it was,” Merriweather said.

He says continuing to diversify the field will make it even more just and impactful.

“Knowing that whoever should come into this courthouse knows that race and culture is not an obstacle to a person feeling represented in our court system,” Merriweather said.

It’s a mission that both he and King continue knowing that the future is watching.

“You turned to television to get your inspiration; there may be a little Black girl who turns this on or is watching with their parents, what do you tell her?” Sáenz asked.

“I would tell her: ‘Brown girl, Brown girl, what do you see? I see a beautiful Brown girl that can be all that she can be,’” King said. “Don’t be scared that you don’t know anyone that has done it.”

“You put your mind to it and the sky truly is the limit.”

(WATCH: ‘Chatty Hatty’ reflects on career as Charlotte’s first Black female radio DJ)

Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.