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William Herbert Johnson L’1903, the College’s first African American graduate, will be posthumously admitted to the New York State Bar

Posted on Thursday 10/3/2019
William Herbert Johnson L'1903

What: Posthumous Admission of William Herbert Johnson L’1903 to the New York State Bar

When: Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, 10 a.m. - noon

Where: S.F. Hancock Ceremonial Courtroom

Onondaga County Courthouse

401 Montgomery Street, Syracuse, NY

Who: Presiding Justice Gerald J. Whalen and Justices of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department;  the Hon. Shirley Troutman, Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department and Co-Chair of the Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission on Minorities; Mr. Johnson’s Family; Members of the Syracuse University College of Law; the Founders of the Syracuse Black Law Alumni Collective; and other distinguished guests.

Why: Born in Syracuse in 1875, William Herbert Johnson received his undergraduate degree from Boston University, served in the Army in the Spanish-American war of 1898, and then returned to his hometown and enrolled in law school at the Syracuse University College of Law.  

After his graduation from law school in 1903, Johnson was unable to gain admission to the New York bar.  Notwithstanding the fact that he was not admitted to practice law, Johnson became a pillar of the Syracuse community, hosting such luminaries as Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver, and opened doors of opportunities for others in the African-American community that had been denied to him.  

Johnson died in 1965 at the age of 90.  Despite the fact that Johnson was not a lawyer, the minority bar association of Central New York was thereafter named the William Herbert Johnson Bar Association in his honor, and an award in his name is given annually by the College of Law.

Johnson will be admitted to the Bar, posthumously, to correct this longstanding injustice and celebrate his many contributions to the Syracuse legal community and community at large.