Black History Spotlight for August 24: Judge Edith Sampson

Judge Edith Spurlock Sampson

Edith Spurlock Sampson was born in October of the early 1900s. She grew up in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in a family of eight children. When she was fourteen, she left home to work in a fish market to support her family.

After graduating high school, she worked with a social work organization named Associated Charities. Shortly thereafter she began to attend the New York School of Social Work.

Sampson was encouraged to attend law school by a professor who noticed her smarts in class. But she finished her social work degree instead. She married Rufus Sampson and moved to Chicago. She worked at the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society and the YWCA.

When Sampson was once again encouraged by her professor to go to law school, she took his advice. She took night classes at the John Marshall Law School while also holding down a full time job as a social worker. When Sampson graduated in 1925, she was ranked highest in her class of 95 students and received a dean’s commendation.

Sampson passed her bar exam on a second attempt but not before she received her master of law degree from Loyola University in 1927. She was one of the first African-American women to join the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Women Lawyers and practice before the US Supreme Court.

On August 24, 1950, President Harry S. Truman appointed Sampson as an alternate delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations, and she was the first African-American woman to serve as an American representative to the U.N. She worked for land reform, reparation of prisoners and repatriation of Greek children.

When she was reappointed alternate delegate in 1952, she was also named member-at-large of the United States Commission for United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Also serving on the United States Citizens Commission on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and a member of the United States Advisory Committee on Private Enterprise in Foreign Aid, Sampson traveled the world to speak her mind on discrimination and the positive aspects of Democracy.

She became the first African-American woman judge in the United States, elected associate to the Municipal Court of Chicago. Years following, Sampson was elected to a seat on the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Sampson went on to receive several honorary degrees and left her lasting inspirational mark of her great work on others.

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