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A History of Diversity at USC Gould: Profiles of Notable Alumni

Edwin L. Jefferson '31

Judge Edwin L. Jefferson (1905-1989) was the first African-American judge west of the Mississippi.¹

Jefferson and his family moved to the Los Angeles area from Coffeeville, Miss., in 1921. He was taught at an early age by his mother due to not being able to attend school with white children. Jefferson would eventually go on to work his way through USC Law School as a campus janitor and graduated in 1931.²

Appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1941 and then the Los Angeles County Superior Court in 1949. In 1961, he was appointed to the state 2nd District Court of Appeal and remained the only black appellate justice in the state until retirement.²

Jefferson was one of the few prominent black legal professionals in the Los Angeles area in the 1930s. Due to the Los Angeles Bar Association restricting black membership, Jefferson and other members of the black legal community, including fellow USC Law alumni Crispus Wright, ‘38 and David Williams, ‘37, would form the John M. Langston Bar Association in 1943.³

Jefferson expressed pride in being a judge and his commitment to impartiality, despite the discrimination he faced in his life.²

Sources: ¹University of Southern California Gould School of Law Archives, ²Los Angeles Times, ³USC Law Magazine (Fall, 1997, p. 16-18)
Profile Photo: University of Southern California Gould School of Law Archives