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. Oregon was the latest state to have added their first black high court justice. Adrienne Nelson took office in 2018. Eighteen states (36 percent of states) have yet to see a black justice on their supreme court bench.[1]

First black justices

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 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]

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