File:Jonathan Jasper Wright.jpg

Wright c. 1870

Jonathan Jasper Wright was an African American lawyer who served as a judge on the Supreme Court of the State of South Carolina during Reconstruction from 1870 to 1877.

Wright was born on February 11, 1840 in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. When he was about six years old his parents removed to Montrose, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. He attended the district school during the winter months, working for the neighboring farmers the rest of the year. Having saved up a small sum of money he entered the Lancasterian University, at Ithaca, in New York State. After a thorough course of study there returned to the village where his parents resided, and entered the office of a law firm, where he read law for two years, supporting himself by teaching. He subsequently entered the office of Judge Collins, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, with whom he read law for another year. Feeling himself qualified for the legal profession, he applied for admission to the Bar; but so great was the existing prejudice against African Americans that the Committee refused to examine him.

In April 1865, Wright was sent by the American Missionary Society to Beaufort, South Carolina, as a teacher and laborer among the freed slaves. He remained in Beaufort until the Civil Rights Act passed. Then he returned to Montrose, Pennsylvania, and demanded an examination. The Committee found him qualified, and recommended his admission to the Bar. He was admitted August 13, 1865, being the first African American admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania. In April, 1866, Wright was appointed by General Oliver Otis Howard, head of the Freedmen's Bureau, to be the legal adviser for the freedmen in Beaufort. In July 1868 he was elected to the Constitutional Convention of South Carolina. He was the convention vice-president and helped draft the judiciary section of the State Constitution, which remains today. Wright was soon afterward elected Senator from the county Beaufort. On February 1, 1870, he was elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court. He served for seven years and then entered into private practice in Charleston. He died in 1885.

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