In honor of our newest U.S. federal holiday, Juneteenth, we’d like to recognize some of the immeasurable contributions of African American lawyers, judges, and lawmakers.
A Brief Legal History of Juneteenth
On June 15, 2021, Juneteenth became the first new Federal Holiday since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 1983. Before becoming a legal federal holiday, Juneteenth was long celebrated as recognition of the final notification of the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved people living in Texas on June 19, 1865. In December 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in the United States.
Celebrated by families and communities across the US, Texas became one of the first states to create an official recognition of Juneteenth in 1979. Advocate and U.S. Congresswoman, Barbara-Rose Collins became one of the first legislators to propose Juneteenth as a federal holiday during the 1990s. Later proposals from former Texas judge and U.S. Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee and Senator John Cornyn eventually led to establishment of the Juneteenth National Independence Day as a federal holiday in June 2021.
Learn more about Juneteenth!
- Legislative History of Juneteenth | In Custodia Legis (loc.gov)
- The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth | National Museum of African American History and Culture (si.edu)
- A Proclamation on Juneteenth Day of Observance, 2021 | The White House
Did you know about these firsts?
Ida Platt was the first African American woman lawyer in the State of Illinois…
Born and raised in Chicago, Ida Platt became the first African American woman to be admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1894 after graduating from the Chicago-Kent College of Law. Ida was the third African American woman licensed to practice law in the U.S. and specialized in probate and real estate during her career, including establishing her own law practice. Learn more about Ida Platt here!
Amos P. Scruggs was the first African American graduate from the University of Illinois College of Law…
In 1907, Amos P. Scruggs became the first African American graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law. Born in 1875 in Shipman, Illinois, Scruggs moved to Nebraska following his graduation from law school where he was admitted to the bar in 1914 and practice law for over 15 years. During his time in Omaha, he became one of the first African Americans in the city government after being appointed as the Inspector of Weights and Measures for the City of Omaha. In the 1930s he returned to Illinois moving to Chicago where he became an Assistant State District Attorney and later the Cook County Assistant Cooperation Counsel. Scruggs ran for elected office multiple times in both Nebraska and Illinois and was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement. Scruggs’ contributions continue to be recognized annually at the College of Law and in a special memorial in the Law Building. Learn more about Amos P. Scruggs here!
William T. Coleman, Jr. was the first African American to clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court…
William T. Coleman, Jr. graduated from Harvard Law School in 1946. After being admitted to the bar, he first clerked for Judge Herbert F. Goodrich of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit before obtaining a position as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1948. He went on to practice law in New York, including significant contributions to many landmark civil rights cases in the 1950s and 1960s as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1975, Coleman was appointed as the U.S. Secretary of Transportation by President Gerald Ford, one of the first African American cabinet members. In 2022, the Department of Transportation headquarters building was named in his honor. Learn more about William T. Coleman, Jr. here!
In December 2022, Chantelle A. Porter became the 1st African American female judge in DuPage County…
A long-time advocate for children and families, following her graduation from DePaul University College of Law, Judge Porter worked in family and juvenile law including serving as a Guardian Ad Litem and Public Defender. In December 2022, Judge Porter was appointed as a Circuit Court Judge in the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit for DuPage County. Learn more about Judge Porter here!
Learn more about the contributions and work of African American lawyers, legislators, and judges here: