Black lawyer wins license 163 years late

May 5, 2010 at 2:23 PM
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HARRISBURG, Pa., May 5 (UPI) -- A man who was denied a Pennsylvania lawyer's license in 1847 because of his race has received one posthumously.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court admitted George Boyer Vashon to the bar Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The decision must be ratified by the Allegheny County Bar, which is considered likely.

Vashon, who grew up in Pittsburgh, read law with a judge after attending Oberlin College. But the state constitution of the time barred people of African descent from becoming lawyers.

Wendell Freeland, a Pittsburgh lawyer, discovered the old case, and Noland Atkinson, a Philadelphia lawyer and Vashon's great-grandson, also pushed for action.

"I felt that as a descendant there was an obligation for me to do what we could to make a change," Atkinson said Tuesday.

Vashon went on to a varied career, including practicing law in New York, teaching at a college in Haiti and then returning to Pittsburgh, where he taught in the public schools and served as president of Avery College. He died of yellow fever in 1878 at the age of 54 while teaching at Alcorn College in Mississippi.

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