From 1879 until 1885, a two-story stucco building that was built around 1876 served as the law office for Justice Jonathan Jasper Wright. He was the first African American State Supreme Court Justice.
Wright’s parents were slaves that had escaped to Springville, Pennsylvania. Wright was born on February 11, 1840, and studied law at the Lancasterian Academy in Ithaca, New York. In 1866, he passed the Pennsylvania bar exam.
At the end of the Civil War, he first traveled to Beaufort, South Carolina, to teach newly freed slaves. Wright began practicing law in South Carolina in the late 1860s and was elected to the Supreme Court of South Carolina as an Associate Justice in 1870.
He eventually resigned from the court in 1877. He did this in protest of the election of Governor Wade Hampton III in 1877, a campaign that was marked by violence and known for suppressing black votes in parts of the state by Hampton supporters known as “Red Shirts”. This year was also the end of Reconstruction as federal troops were removed from the South, and Jim Crow laws began reversing much of the gains made by African Americans during the previous time period.
In 1879, Wright opened his law office at 84 Queen Street. He died on February 18, 1885 and is buried at the Calvary Episcopal Church cemetery.
Historical Marker Inscription
Jonathan Jasper Wright (1840-1885), the first African American in the U.S. to sit as a justice on a state supreme court, practiced law here from 1877 until his death in 1885. Wright, a native of Pa., was educated at Lancasterian Academy in Ithaca, N.Y. He came to S.C. in 1865 as a teacher for the American Missionary Association and was later a legal advisor to freedman for the Freedmen’s Bureau.
Wright wrote that he hoped to “vindicate the cause of the downtrodden.” He was a delegate to the S.C. constitutional convention of 1868 and a state senator from 1868-70. Wright, elected to the S.C. Supreme Court in 1870, resigned in 1877 due to political pressure. After he left the bench he practiced law, helped Claflin College found its Law Department, and became is Chair in Law. He died or tuberculosis in 1885.
84 Queen Street, Charleston, SC 29401