Black First of the Day

Black Firsts 3e
ISBN: 9781578593699

Who was the first black lawyer to argue a case before the Supreme Court?

  • Occurred on February 2, 1880.
  • It is not John Sweat Rock, who, in 1865, was the first black lawyer admitted to practice before the court.
  • He, with his father, founded a university in 1867 and later an industrial academy.
  • He established Loweryville in Jefferson County, Alabama.

February 2, 1880

Samuel R. Lowery (1832-c.1900)

Samuel R. Lowery (1832-c.1900) on February 2, 1880, was the first black lawyer to argue a case before the Supreme Court. This first is distinct from John Sweat Rock's first in 1865--Rock was admitted to practice before the court, a recognition of standing as a lawyer obtained by many more lawyers than ever actually appear before the court to argue a case. Lowery became a Christian Church minister in 1848. By 1856 the lives of free blacks in Nashville, where Lowery lived, had changed dramatically, and city officials and white vigilantes ordered free black schools that had operated since 1839 closed. Lowery moved to Ohio and became pastor of Harrison Street Christian Church in Cincinnati. He returned to Nashville and became a Christian Church missionary and chaplain for the 9th U.S, Colored Artillery Battalion. He also became teacher for the 2nd U.S. Colored Light Artillery, Battery A troops. Lowery and his father founded Tennessee Manual Labor University in 1867 but questions concerning financial impropriety later closed the school around 1872. Lowery studied law under a white attorney and set up law practice. He moved to Huntsville, Alabama, in 1875, establishing Lowery's Industrial Academy; later he founded the S. R. and R. M. Lowery Industrial Silk Culture and Manufacturing Company. Lowery was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court on February 2, 1880. In the 1880s he established Loweryvale, a cooperative community in Jefferson County, Alabama, and died there around 1900.

Sources: Encyclopedia of Black America, p. 499; Leaders of Afro-American Nashville; Simmons, Men of Mark, pp. 144-48.

From Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Events by Jessie Carney Smith, © 2013 Visible Ink Press®. A celebration of achievement, accomplishments and pride.

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