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

Edwin L. Jefferson '31

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

Jefferson grew up in Coffeeville, Miss., where he and his siblings were taught at home by their mother because they were unable to attend public school due to racial discrimination. After his family moved to Los Angeles in 1921, Jefferson gained admission to USC and then went on to its law school, working to support himself as a campus janitor.²

After graduating from law school in 1931, he practiced law before being 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 California 2nd District Court of Appeal and remained the only Black appellate justice in the state until his retirement in 1975.²

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's membership restrictions on Black lawyers, Jefferson and other members of the Black legal community, including fellow USC Law alumni Crispus Wright ‘38, and David Williams ‘37, formed the John M. Langston Bar Association in 1943.³

Jefferson expressed pride in being a judge and in 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

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