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Kilbourn v. Thompson

Samuel R. Lowery, African American Lawyer

At the time that Kilbourn was argued, very few African Americans practiced law, Samuel Lowery was notable exception. Lowery (1832-1900) was raised by his father and schooled (along with his father) in the ways of being a Christian pastor by the Reverend Talbot Fanning at Franklin College in Nashville, where his father worked as a farmer, livery stable operator and janitor. This education led him to his first position as a minister in 1848, but his good fortune was short-lived. As debates over slavery raged in the South, free African Americans were finding themselves the target of great hatred and violence. In 1856 Samuel had to leave his church as he and his father moved North to find a better life for themselves. Although Samuel found himself in the pulpit once again by 1859, at the Harrison Street Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, he longed to return to his southern home.

It was five years before the Union Army occupation of Nashville allowed for the African American community in the southern city to thrive again. When Lowery returned to his home town it was with a mission. He became a Christian Church missionary and worked to found the Tennessee Manual Labor University, making his father the president. Like the school that his father had worked for so many years before, their university taught agriculture, mechanical arts and Christian ethics. Unfortunately, the school fell under hard times when a fundraising venture ended in Samuel Lowrey's being excommunicated from the white Christian Church. Without their funding, the university was forced to close.

It was also during this time that Lowery had started to study and practice law. After moving to Huntsville, Alabama in 1875, and establishing another school (Lowery's Industrial Academy), his continued practice of the law earned him admittance to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court on 2 February 1880. He was the first African American to receive this honor.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Kilbourn v. Thompson - Significance, An Uncooperative Witness, Preserving The Separation Of Powers, Congressional Immunity, Samuel R. Lowery, African American Lawyer