The Honorable Ronald D. Castille, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, presented Duane Morris with a Pennsylvania Supreme Court admission certificate. Duane Morris Partner Nolan N. Atkinson, who is Vashon’s great-grandson, petitioned the court to posthumously admit Vashon to the bar.
Vashon twice sought admission to practice law in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, but was rejected in both cases because of his race. In October 2010, after Atkinson and others petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Vashon was officially admitted posthumously to the bar of the courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
As a teenager, alongside his father, who was an abolitionist and well-respected leader in the black community, Vashon co-founded the Pittsburgh anti-slavery society in 1838. He attended Oberlin College, where he was the first African American to receive a bachelor's degree. After he was denied the right to practice law in Allegheny County, he moved to New York and became the first licensed African American attorney in that state. Later returning to Pittsburgh, Vashon became a principal at an African American public school and served as president of Avery College. Vashon moved to Washington, D.C., where he was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and, in 1867, became the first negro to teach at Howard University. Vashon died in Mississippi in 1878 during a yellow-fever epidemic.
The presentation took place in Philadelphia at Duane Morris' annual George Boyer Vashon Lecture: The Law & Politics of Affirmative Action on Friday, April 27, 2012.
The George Boyer Vashon Lecture commemorates his life by exploring issues of justice and fairness. In 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the wrongness of discrimination against Vashon, based upon race, which was the law of the Commonwealth 163 years ago. The Vashon lecture deals with the intersection of politics, economics and law, and its constant evolution.
To view a video of the presentation, please click here.