George Lewis Ruffin

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George Lewis Ruffin

George Lewis Ruffin (16 December 1834 - 19 November 1886) was an American attorney and judge. In 1869 he was the first African American to graduate from Harvard Law School, and was elected as the first African American to serve on the Boston City Council.[1] Ruffin was elected in 1870 to the Massachusetts Legislature. In 1883, he was appointed by the governor as a judge in the Charlestown district of municipal court, the first black judge in the United States.


Ruffin was born to George W. (1800-1863) and Nancy Lewis Ruffin (1816-1874)[2] in Richmond, Virginia as a free person of color, of African and European ancestry. The city had a large free black community. His family moved to Boston, where he was educated in the public schools.[3]

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1858 he married Josephine St. Pierre, who was of Afro-Caribbean, French and English descent. They had fours sons and a daughter together.[1] Their children were Hubert, who became an attorney; Florida Ridley, a school principal and co-founder with her mother of the newspaper Women's Era; Stanley, an inventor; George, a musician; and Robert, who died in his first year of life.


He became a barber to support his family and read law books on the side. He started publishing articles in a law journal and was admitted to Harvard Law School.[1] and saved enough money to enroll. After graduating in 1869, the first African American to earn a law degree Harvard University,[1] he practiced with success in Boston.[1] He was politically active and attended the National Negro Convention of 1864 in Syracuse, New York.

He was elected to the state legislature in 1870 as a Republican and served one term.[3] Ruffin was elected as the first man of African descent to the Boston City Council, where he served one term, 1876-1877.[1]

In 1883, he was appointed by Governor Benjamin F. Butler as a judge of the municipal court in the Charlestown district. He was the first black justice to hold office in New England.[3]

He died in Boston, Massachusetts[3] and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery.[4]

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • 1984, the George Lewis Ruffin Society was founded in his honor at Northeastern University to support minorities studying in the Massachusetts criminal justice system.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Stephanie Knight, "George Lewis Ruffin", Black Past, accessed 14 April 2012
  2. ^ "Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising". Google Books. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d "George Lewis Ruffin". Appleton's Cyclopedia. Ruffin, George Lewis, lawyer, born in Richmond, Virginia, 16 December 1834; died in Boston, Massachusetts, 19 November 1886. 
  4. ^ "African American Heritage Trail". Mount Auburn Cemetery. Retrieved 24 June 2014.