"First African American Supreme Court Justice In The United States"
Born in Luzerne County Pennsylvania - Son of Runaway Slaves - Grew up in Springfield, Pennsylvania and was privately tutored and mentored by a Presbyterian minister who was active in the anti-slavery movement.
Educated in Common Schools of Pennsylvania and Lancasterian Academy, Ithaca, N.Y. Read Law in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania for years in local law office and the office of a judge, and was later admitted to the practice of law in August of 1866, making him the first black attorney in Pennsylvania.
Came to Beaufort, S.C. in 1865, hired by the American Missionary Association to teach black Federal troops, and later was a legal advisor for Freedman's Bureau. Wright viewed this responsibility as one to "vindicate the cause of the downtrodden", and as such, quickly acquired a following among the newly freed slaves.
He was a delegate to the Colored People's Convention at Zion Church in Charleston, and was elected to the Union Republican Party's State Central Committee, and a delegate to the South Carolina State Constitutional Convention in 1867. As a passionate advocate for public education and consensus among peoples of different backgrounds, he was primarily responsible for the Convention creating the State's Public School System.
At Liberty Hall in Charleston, Wright urged his fellow citizens to judge others not by their race or political affiliation, but by "their moral and intrinsic value their honesty and integrity and their love of liberty".
Elected to the S.C. Senate in April 1868
Elected to the S.C. Supreme Court as Associate Justice on February 1, 1870, and served until December 1,1877,where he authored some 90 decisions that influenced the direction of the Court. Many of these decisions are still relied upon to this day as legal precedents.
Wright's resignation in 1877 from the Court came about after he refused to recognize the disputed election of Wade Hampton as Governor, which he said he could not do and "honor my judicial trust."
Wright set up law offices at 84 Queen Street in Charleston, and began training law students officially registered at the Law Department of Claflin College.
Wright died on February 19, 1895 after a long battle with tuberculosis, and was buried in Calvary EpiscopalChurch Cemetery on February 21, 1885, just one block from his residence at 69 Line Street.
In February, 1998, the South Carolina Supreme Court hung a portrait of Wright in the lobby of the Supreme Court Building in honor of his distinguished service to the Court and the citizens of South Carolina.
This plaque is erected in the memory of Justice Jonathan Jasper Wright with the sincere hope that his dream that "we shall know no North, no East, no South, no West, no white nor colored, no Democrat nor Republican, but choose men because of their intrinsic value and their honestly and integrity", will someday be a reality in America.