George Lewis Ruffin (1834–1886)

August 11, 2012

Lawyer, Jurist, Civic Leader, Abolitionist

Ruffin was born in Richmond, Virginia on December 13 1834 to free parents and moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1853 when the state of Virginia passed a law banning African Americans from learning to read.  In Boston Ruffin attended public schools and was also self taught.  In 1858 he married  Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, with whom he had four children.

When the Civil War began, Ruffin attempted, unsuccessfully, to join the 55th MA Regiment.  This however did not deter him from continuing to supporting the abolition movement.  Together with his wife, he recruited African Americans for the Union Army as well as serving on the city’s Sanitation Committee.  After the war, George Ruffin became the first African American to graduate from Harvard Law School in 1869.  Following his graduation, he was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature in 1870 where he served one term in office.  In 1876 Ruffin was elected as the first man of African descent to the Boston City Council, where he served one term in office.  He then became the first African American judge in the United States, when in 1883 he was appointed by the governor as a judge in the Charlestown district of municipal court, securing for himself and his wife an elevated social status.

In 1984, Ruffin’s legacy was honored when Northeastern University established the “George Lewis Ruffin Society” for the education of minorities in the study of Massachusetts Criminal Justice.

George Lewis Ruffin is buried at Mount Auburn in Lot 4960 on Indian Ridge Path.


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