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George Lewis Ruffin, Mass. state rep., district judge

Black History

Joseph H. Nelson | 2/7/2014, 6 a.m.
Honorable Judge George Lewis Ruffin was born of free parents, George W. and Nancy Lewis Ruffin, in Richmond, Va., on ...
George Lewis Ruffin (Portrait by Melvin Robbins courtesy of the Harvard Law Library)

Honorable Judge George Lewis Ruffin was born of free parents, George W. and Nancy Lewis Ruffin, in Richmond, Va., on December 16, 1834. Advantages for the education of blacks in Virginia were very limited. His parents, who were very anxious about the moral and intellectual development of their children, moved to Boston in 1853 where their family could have the benefit of the schools.

George attended and graduated from the public schools in Boston. He began work in a barber shop with his books always by his side, and he learned from his daily association with the businessmen of the city who came to the shop. Later, he studied law at the firm of Jewall and Gatson, and then entered Harvard Law School, where he distinguished himself by completing the three year course in one year. He graduated in 1869 with the degree of Bachelor of Laws, the second degree ever conferred by Harvard on an African American, and the first from the law school.

From the old 6th Ward, now the 9th Ward of Boston, lawyer Ruffin was elected to the Mass. State Legislature in 1869 and served two terms. In 1875, he was elected to the Boston City Council. This recognition was the expression of confidence in the sterling worth, exalted reputation and legal ability of this truly great citizen.

In 1872, he was a delegate to the National Convention held in New Orleans, and part of the time he presided over this body and delivered an eloquent speech on the life and services of Hon. Charles Sumner. Again, in 1876, when he was unable to be present at the Lincoln Memorial Club of Cincinnati where he was invited to deliver an address, his written thoughts were read for the inspiration of those present.

He was a man of charitable, warm-hearted and generous impulses.

A distinguished looking man with a rich voice similar to Paul Robeson’s, Ruffin firmly believed in justice, equality and human dignity.

For many years he was a member of the 12th Baptist Church of Boston and superintendent of its Sunday School. His desire was to teach young people that political honor and a Christian life are not necessarily separable.

For years, he was a member of the Ward 9 Committee. In 1871, he was a Major General Benjamin Butler delegate at the famous Worcester Convention and made the nomination speech supporting General Butler for Governor of Massachusetts.

After becoming governor, General Butler nominated Ruffin as Judge of the District Court of Charlestown. Although three nominees were rejected, attorney Ruffin was unanimously confirmed. General Butler himself administered the oath of office.

In 1883, he was made consul resident in Boston for the Dominican Republic and served with honor. Ruffin was the first president of the Wendell Phillips Club of Boston, and was a member and at one time president of the Banneker Club.

He married a Boston native and four children blessed their home.

November 19, 1886, Ruffin passed away after a long illness. Touching tributes of respect were paid to his memory by many friends and dignitaries. In his short life, Ruffin compiled an illustrious record of which anyone might be proud.