South Carolina History Spotlight

Jonathan Jasper Wright (1840-1885)

Jonathan Jasper Wright (February 11, 1840-February 18, 1885) was born free to formerly enslaved parents in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. In his early years he split his time between local schooling and farm work. In After saving his pay, he was able to attend Lancasterian University in Ithaca, New York after which he returned to Montrose, Pennsylvania. In , he received an LL.D (Legum Doctorate) from Avery University in Pittsburgh, PA. He applied to the Pennsylvania Bar, but they would not allow him to take the exam due to race.

In 1865, Wright comes to Beaufort, South Carolina as a request from the American Missionary Society to serve as a teacher for the formerly enslaved. He remains in South Carolina until the passing to the Civil Rights Act. He then returns to Montrose where he demands entrance in to the Pennsylvania Bar. The committee finds him qualified and he is admitted on August 13, 1865. He becomes the first Black person to practice law in Pennsylvania.

In April 1866, General Oliver Otis Howard, Howard University’s namesake and the Commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau, appoint Wright as the legal counsel for the freeman of Beaufort, South Carolina. In July 1868, he is elected to the Constitutional Convention of South Carolina where he was elected Vice-President and help draft the judiciary section, which remains today. He was soon after elected South Carolina State Senator.

In February 1, 1870, he was elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court becoming the first Black person elected to a Federal Supreme Court. Justice Wright served South Carolina for seven years until white supremacy regained control of state government in 1877.

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