Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My, How Quickly Things Changed

In March 1857 the United States Supreme Court in the Dred Scott Decision ruled that African Americans were not citizens. Therefore, they were not to vote, run for political office, or testify in court, and while as the saying goes, "all laws are local," and this ruling was ignored in some areas, still the court's decision stood-for a time.

The country's entrance into a terrible civil war brought not only death and destruction, it also facilitated enormous social and political changes. Just eight short years after the Dred Scott Decision, the first African American received authorization to argue a legal case before the highest judicial body in the nation.

John S. Rock was born free in New Jersey in 1825 and received a good education in the public schools of the Garden State. He studied medicine in Philadelphia and graduated from American Medical College in 1852. Apparently not content with only being a doctor, Rock studied law and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1861. During the war he helped raise the black regiments that the Bay State produced and in the war's final year, with the endorsement of Senator Charles Sumner, he became the first African American to present a case before the Supreme Court.

Rock's amazingly accomplished life ended too soon on December 3,1866 as he finally passed away after a long battle with lingering health problems throughout the late 1850s and into the 1860s.

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