George Boyer Vashon: New York’s First African American Attorney

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.

George Boyer Vashon (1824-1878) was admitted to the New York Bar on January 11, 1848, thereafter practicing in Syracuse. He became New York’s first African American attorney, after having been rejected on the grounds of race by the Bar of his native Pennsylvania in 1847. He was admitted to the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1867.

Vashon was a scholar, poet, and abolitionist, and had a varied and interesting life. He was the first African American to graduate from Oberlin College, and became Howard University’s first Black professor. He taught in Haiti and served in the Freedman’s Bureau after the Civil War. Vashon was active in the emancipation and African American rights movements, and was in the circle of Frederick Douglass. He was also active in the National Convention of the Colored Men of America.

In its January 1869 meeting, Vashon was elected as a delegate to advocate passage of the 15th Amendment before the 40th Congress. He also drafted an Address to the Colored Citizens of the United States which was adopted and published by the Convention. Though he never fought on the battlefield, Vashon’s efforts exemplify the fight that African Americans waged to gain basic human rights.

Catch up on the rest of our Every Month is Black History Month posts.


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