Newhouse professor helps Law alumnus gain posthumous admission to the bar

October 14, 2019
photo of William H Johnson

More than 100 years after he graduated from the Syracuse University College of Law and was denied admission to the bar, late alumnus William Herbert Johnson L’1903 will be granted posthumous admission to the New York State Bar.

Born in Syracuse in 1875, Johnson was the first African American graduate of the College of Law, but was denied admission to the bar due to his race.

The nonprofit Syracuse Black Law Alumni Collective, co-founded by Newhouse assistant professor J. Christopher Hamilton, recently petitioned the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department to grant Johnson posthumous admission to the New York State Bar.

“He graduated at the top of his class but was prevented from being admitted to the bar due to racism at the time,” says Hamilton. “However, the Court of Appeals granted our admission waiver and restored justice to the Johnson family.”

An admission ceremony will be held Oct. 18 at 10 a.m. at the Onondaga County Courthouse.

Though Johnson was never able to practice law, he became a pillar of the Syracuse community, hosting luminaries such as Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver, and helping others in the African American community realize the opportunities that had been denied to him. 

Johnson died in 1965 at the age of 90. The minority bar association of Central New York was named in his honor, and an award in his name is given annually by the College of Law.