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Better Late Than Never: 122 Years after His Death, Lawyer Joins the Allegheny County Bar!

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George Boyer Vashon was the first African-American lawyer of New York and had even made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in the post-Civil War era. However, Alleghany County Officials in Pennsylvania continued to deny his application for enrolment to the bar on grounds of his racial origin. The State Constitution of Pennsylvania at the time denied the freedom to practice law to ''blacks.''

Vashon had studied law at the Oberlin College in Ohio at a time when many practicing lawyers had no formal education in law. An extremely studious and erudite man, Vashon served in different posts in courts, government, and universities throughout his life. He made his first application to join the profession of law at the Allegheny County Bar and was turned down citing his Negro ancestry.



In a movement that feels like an epic saga of American history, Vashon's great-grandson became a well-known Philadelphia attorney and led the fight to undo the historical wrong visited upon Vashon. Wendel G. Freeland, a Pittsburgh lawyer who discovered the fact of Vashon's rejection in an old journal of the state's bar association, helped Nolan Atkinson, the great grandson of Vashon in his crusade.

When the Philadelphia Bar Association honored Nolan Atkinson for his work promoting diversity in law, he took the opportunity to dedicate the award to Vashon, his long-dead ancestor, and related the story of his rejection to the audience.

In a two-page order made on Tuesday, the bench recognized that ''George B. Vashon possessed the necessary credentials, competency, and good character to practice law in Pennsylvania in 1847.''

That I guess is the spirit of America: The honesty to own up to mistakes and try to heal wounds as much as possible, - even if one and a half century later.


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