John S. Rock became first African-American lawyer to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Upon the passage of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which formally ended slavery, abolitionist lawyer John Swett Rock became the first African-American admitted to the bar of the United States Supreme Court on Feb. 1, 1865.
Rock was born free on October 13, 1825, in Salem, New Jersey. He was also an educator and later studied dentistry, graduating from the American Medical College in Philadelphia in 1852. He set up a practice in Boston, where many of his patients were escaped slaves fleeing to Canada through the Underground Railroad.
An outspoken abolitionist in Boston, Rock switched his focus to law and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1861. He served the U.S. Supreme Court for just one year before health problems derailed his career. On Dec. 3, 1866, at age 41, he died from tuberculosis.
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