Today in History: James B. Parsons Becomes the First African American Chief Judge of a Federal Court


James B. Parsons

On this day in 1961, James B. Parsons, becomes the first African American chief judge of a federal court, the U.S. District Court of Chicago.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Parsons received a B.A. from Millikin University in 1934.

He was in the United States Naval Reserve during World War II from 1942 to 1945, and received an M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1946, followed by a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1949.

He was an assistant United States Attorney of the Northern District of Illinois from 1951 to 1960 and was a judge on the Superior Court of Cook County, Illinois from 1960 to 1961, however in 1961, Parsons was nominated by President John F. Kennedy to a seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois vacated by Judge Philip L. Sullivan.

He was the first black person given a lifetime appointment on the Federal bench.

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