Participation & the Massachusetts Courts
For more than three centuries, African Americans have fought to achieve full participation and justice at every level of the Massachusetts court system.
In Massachusetts colonial courts, both enslaved and free African Americans participated only as litigants—plaintiffs or defendants in a legal action—or as witnesses. Black attorneys were admitted to the bar, and African Americans were allowed to serve as jurors in the middle part of the 19th century. The first Massachusetts African American judge, George Lewis Ruffin, was appointed in 1883.
Further expansion of the black role in the legal system was disappointingly slow. It was not until the second half of the 20th century that black attorneys began to be hired in significant numbers in the private and public sectors, and African Americans gained appointments at all levels of the state and federal courts.