African American Lawyers in 19th Century North Carolina – Benchmarks

In 1873, there were three African American lawyers in North Carolina. They were George L. Mabson of Wilmington, John S. Leary from Fayetteville and James O’Hara in Enfield. The first two had graduated from Howard University’s new law school. The third had studied there, then read law with a white lawyer in Halifax.

In 1879, there were four others: Charles B. Warrick, John H. Smyth, John Henry Collins (from Enfield), and George T. Wassom (Goldsboro).

On January 6, 1879, George Henry White, then a resident of New Bern, was licensed.

By 1890, there were 14 black lawyers in North Carolina.

Those are numbers I had not seen before. Gives me a handle on the story of African American lawyers in North Carolina.

George H. White has the highest profile today. He was one of North Carolina’s most notable 19th Century lawyers and among its most remarkable citizens. For a brief moment he was the leading spokesman for African Americans in the country.

These names and numbers come from George Henry White, An Even Chance in the Race of Life, Benjamin R. Justesen (LSU Press 2001), page 50.

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