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First black judges on the state supreme courts

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The first state in the nation to have a black supreme court justice was South Carolina. Jonathan Jasper Wright took office as early as 1870. After that, there was not another black state supreme court justice until Harold A. Stevens joined the State of New York Court of Appeals in 1955. Kentucky was the latest state to have added their first black high court justice. William E. McAnulty, Jr. took office in 2005, though he passed away two years later. Nineteen states (38 percent of states) have yet to see a black justice on their supreme court bench.[1][2]

First black justices

The following is a list of the first African-American justices to serve on each of the state supreme courts.

Court Justice Took office
Alabama Supreme Court Oscar W. Adams, Jr. 1980[3]
Alaska Supreme Court - -
Arizona Supreme Court - -
Arkansas Supreme Court George Howard, Jr. 1977[4]
California Supreme Court Wiley W. Manuel 1977[5]
Colorado Supreme Court Gregory Kellam Scott 1992[6]
Connecticut Supreme Court Robert D. Glass 1987[7]
Delaware Supreme Court - -
Florida Supreme Court Joseph W. Hatchett 1975[8][9]
Georgia Supreme Court Robert Benham 1989[10][9]
Hawaii Supreme Court - -
Idaho Supreme Court - -
Illinois Supreme Court Charles E. Freeman 1990[11]
Indiana Supreme Court Myra C. Selby 1995[12][13]
Iowa Supreme Court - -
Kansas Supreme Court - -
Kentucky Supreme Court William E. McAnulty, Jr. 2005[2]
Louisiana Supreme Court Revius Ortique, Jr. 1992[14]
Maine Supreme Court - -
Maryland Court of Appeals Harry A. Cole 1977[15]
Massachusetts Supreme Court Roderick Ireland 1997[16]
Michigan Supreme Court Otis M. Smith 1961[17]
Minnesota Supreme Court Alan Page 1993[18]
Mississippi Supreme Court Reuben V. Anderson 1985[19]
Missouri Supreme Court Ronnie L. White 1995[20]
Montana Supreme Court - -
Nebraska Supreme Court - -
Nevada Supreme Court Michael Douglas 2004[21]
New Hampshire Supreme Court - -
New Jersey Supreme Court James Coleman, Jr. 1994[22]
New Mexico Supreme Court - -
State of New York Court of Appeals Harold A. Stevens 1955[23]
North Carolina Supreme Court Henry Frye 1983[24]
North Dakota Supreme Court - -
Ohio Supreme Court Robert Morton Duncan 1969[25]
Oklahoma Supreme Court Tom Colbert 2004[26]
Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals David B. Lewis 2005[27]
Oregon Supreme Court - -
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Robert N.C. Nix, Jr. 1972[28]
Rhode Island Supreme Court - -
South Carolina Supreme Court Jonathan Jasper Wright 1870[29]
South Dakota Supreme Court - -
Tennessee Supreme Court George H. Brown 1980[30]
Texas Supreme Court Wallace B. Jefferson 2001[31]
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Morris L. Overstreet 1990[32]
Utah Supreme Court - -
Vermont Supreme Court - -
Virginia Supreme Court Charles Thomas 1983[33]
Washington Supreme Court Charles Z. Smith 1988[34]
West Virginia Supreme Court Franklin D. Cleckley 1994[35]
Wisconsin Supreme Court Louis B. Butler, Jr. 2004[36]
Wyoming Supreme Court - -

Jonathan Jasper Wright

Jonathan Jasper Wright

Jonathan Jasper Wright (1840-1885) was the first black justice of a state supreme court in the country. He was born in Pennsylvania and attended school at the Lancasterian Academy in New York, where he graduated in 1860. He was initially denied admittance to the Pennsylvania State Bar Association due to his race. After the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, he was accepted in 1866 and became the first black attorney in Pennsylvania. He spent the year 1965 in South Carolina as a member of the American Missionary Association. He taught and gave legal advice to former slaves and helped organize schools. Becoming involved in Republican politics, he served as a delegate to the South Carolina Constitutional Convention in 1868 and was a member of the South Carolina State Senate. At age 30, he was appointed to the South Carolina Supreme Court in 1870. In 1877, when the government became controlled by Democrats, the legislature tried to impeach Wright on charges of corruption. He resigned later that year. After leaving the court, he practiced law in Charleston. An award named after him, the Jonathan Jasper Wright Award is given annually to "an outstanding member of the South Carolina legal community."[37][1]

In the news


In 2015, Delaware's Judicial Nominating Commission named Calvin L. Scott, who was a judge of the New Castle County Superior Court, as a possible nominee to the vacancy on the Delaware Supreme Court. Scott would have been the first black justice to serve on the court. However, Governor Jack Markell chose to appoint Collins Seitz Jr.[38][39]

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1, "Wright, Jonathan J. (1840-1885)," accessed March 20, 2015
  2. 2.0 2.1 University of Kentucky Libraries, "Notable Kentucky African Americans Database - McAnulty, William E., Jr."
  3. Alabama Department of Archives & History, "Oscar W. Adams Jr."
  4. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, "Supreme Court of Arkansas"
  5. CBS Local: San Francisco Bay Area, "California Legislature Celebrating 50 Years Of African-American Justices," April 24, 2011
  6. Colorado Judicial Branch, "Justice Gregrory Kellam Scott Resigns from the Supreme Court," March 6, 2000
  7. Connecticut Judicial Branch, "Dedication Ceremony program for the naming of the Justice Robert D. Glass Courthouse," May 19, 2008
  8. 2013 Florida Black History Month: Black Firsts in Florida
  9. 9.0 9.1 Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-breaking and Pioneering Historical Events edited by Jessie Carney Smith. Visible Ink Press, 2003. (Google Books preview)
  10. Tuskegee University, "Justice Robert Benham"
  11. Illinois Blue Book 2011-2012, "Supreme Court" Scroll to p.140
  12. Randall T. Shepard Academy, "Indiana Supreme Court"
  13. Indiana Public Media, "A Woman's Judgment," March 18, 2013
  14. Hinterland Gazette, "Justice Revius Ortique Jr., First Black Louisiana Supreme Court Judges Dies at 84," June 23, 2008
  15. Baltimore Bar Library portraits, "Hon. Harry A. Cole"
  16. The Massachusetts Judicial System, "The Supreme Judicial Court"
  17. Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, "Otis Smith"
  18. University of Minnesota Duluth, "Justice Alan Page panel discussion"
  19. Los Angeles Times, "First Black Joins State's High Court in Mississippi," January 17, 1985
  20. Your Missouri Courts, "Law Matters: Celebrating African-Americans' contributions to Missouri's justice system," March 5, 2013
  21., "Remembering the first black justice in the Nevada Supreme Court," February 5, 2006
  22. CBS New York, "Christie Pressed To Make NJ Supreme Court More Diverse," October 21, 2011
  23. New York Times, "Judge Harold Stevens, 83, Dies; First Black on Court of Appeals," November 11, 1990
  24. This Day In North Carolina History, "Henry Frye: First African-American on the N.C. Supreme Court," February 3, 2013
  25. Dayton Daily News, "Ohio’s first black Supreme Court justice dies at 85," November 2, 2012
  26. NewsOK, "First black justice takes seat on Oklahoma Supreme Court Tom Colbert is sworn in before a packed Capitol house," November 5, 2004
  27. NewsOK, "Judge becomes first black on Court of Criminal Appeals Gov. Henry appointed David B. Lewis to fill vacancy on the bench," September 29, 2005
  28. New York Times, "R. N. C. Nix Jr., 75, Groundbreaking Judge," August 26, 2003
  29. University of South Carolina, "Jonathan Jasper Wright Award"
  30. YouTube, "Radio Ad, "Important Firsts," Featuring Judge George Brown," October 21, 2008
  31. University of Texas at Austin, "Alumnus Wallace B. Jefferson, ’88, Appointed First African American Chief Justice of Texas Supreme Court," September 14, 2004
  32. State Bar Association of Texas, "Texas Legal Legends"
  33. ABC3 Winchester, "VA's First Black Chief Justice Has Died," February 9, 2011 (timed out)
  34., "Smith, Charles Z."
  35. The West Virginia Encyclopedia, "Franklin D. Cleckley," April 11, 2013
  36. Wisconsin Court System, Supreme Court Former Justices: Louis B. Butler, Jr.
  37. University of South Carolina School of Law, "Jonathan Jasper Wright Award," accessed March 20, 2015
  38. Delaware Liberal, "Markell’s Supreme Court, and a Missed Opportunity," February 24, 2015
  39. Delaware Online, "Six apply for Delaware Supreme Court seat," February 12, 2015