(also John Sweat or John Swett Rock) (October 13
– December 3
) was an American teacher, doctor, dentist, lawyer and abolitionist who originated the notion of "Black is Beautiful". Rock was one of the first African Americans to earn a medical degree
. In addition, he was the first African American to be admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States
Early life and education
John S. Rock was born to free African-American
parents in Salem, New Jersey
. Not much is known of his childhood. He taught in schools in New Jersey from 1844 to 1848. While teaching, he studied medicine. He apprenticed to two white doctors based in Salem: Dr. Shaw and Dr. Gibson; studying with practicing physicians was a common way to gain medical training. Rock also sought entrance into medical school in 1848. He transferred into the field of dentistry and opened a dental practice in 1850. Finally gaining admittance to medical school, Rock graduated from American Medical College
in 1852. At the age of 27, he was a teacher, dentist and physician.
Rock was a passionate abolitionist
and civil rights
leader and held a strong belief in the dignity and rights of all Americans. In 1853, Rock decided that Boston
's liberal environment would better suit him. While practicing medicine and dentistry, he lectured for anti-slavery
groups. He became known as one of the most brilliant speakers in the anti-slavery movement. Rock is credited with coining the phrase "Black is beautiful
" during a speech he gave in Faneuil Hall
as a refutation of the western idea that the natural features of African Americans are unattractive.
Troubled by health-related problems, Rock went to Paris to seek medical treatment and returned to Boston in February 1859. Doctors advised him to cut back on his work. In 1860, he gave up his medical and dental practices and began to study law. He gained admittance to the Massachusetts Bar in 1861 and opened his private law office. Rock became the first black to be received on the floor of the US House of Representatives.
February 1, 1865, the same day Congress approved the 13th Amendment ending slavery, Charles Sumner introduced a motion that made Rock the first black attorney to be admitted to argue in the Supreme Court of the United States. There was celebration the day he appeared before them.
Rock enjoyed this honor for less than a year. On December 3, 1866, John S. Rock died in his home of tuberculosis at the age of 41.