Edith Spurlock Sampson
(13 October 1901
? – 8 October 1979
) was an American lawyer
, and the first Black U.S.
delegate appointed to the United Nations
Youth and Education
Sampson was born in Pittsburgh
to Louis Spurlock and Elizabeth A. McGruder. Despite family financial difficulties, she graduated from Peabody High School
in Pittsburgh. She then went to work for Associated Charities
, and studied at the New York School of Social Work
. One of her instructors, George Kirchwey
, encouraged her to become an attorney. She studied law while working as a social worker
, taking night courses at John Marshall Law School
, from 1922 to 1925.
In 1924, Sampson opened a law office on the South Side
of Chicago, serving the local black community. From 1925 through 1942, she was associated with the Juvenile Court
of Cook County
, serving as a probation officer
. Sampson became the first woman to earn a Master of Laws
from Loyola University
's Graduate Law School
in 1927. She also passed the Illinois State Bar exam
that year. In 1934, she was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court
. In 1947, she was appointed as an Assistant State's Attorney
in Cook County.
In 1949, Sampson was part of the Round-the-World Town Meeting, a program that sent twenty-six prominent Americans on a world tour, meeting leaders of foreign countries and participating in public political debates and radio broadcasts. In these meetings, Sampson sought to counter Soviet propaganda
regarding civil rights
struggles in the U.S. During one meeting in India, she said:
The question is, quite bluntly, 'Do Negroes have equal rights in America?' My answer is no, we do not have equal rights in all parts of the United States. But let's remember that 85 years ago Negroes in America were slaves and were 100 per cent illiterate. And the record shows that the Negro has advanced further in this period than any similar group in the entire world. You here get considerable misinformation about American Negroes and hear little or nothing that is constructive.
She also stated that "I would rather be a Negro in America than a citizen in any other land." Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
said that her actions "created more good will and understanding in India than any other single act by any American".
As a result of the Town Meeting tour and her other public speaking, President Truman
appointed Sampson as an alternate U.S. delegate to the United Nations in August 1950, making her the first African-American to officially represent the United States at the UN. She was a member of the UN's Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee, where she lobbied for continued support of work in social welfare. She also presented a resolution pressuring the Soviet Union to repatriate the remainder of its Prisoners of War
from World War II
. She was reappointed to the UN in 1952, and served until 1953. During the Eisenhower
Administration, she was a member of the U.S. Commission for UNESCO
. In 1961 and 1962, she became the first black U.S. representative to NATO
In 1962, Sampson ran for associate judge of the Municipal Court of Chicago, and easily won the election; she was the first black woman to be elected as a judge in the United States. In 1966, she became an associate judge for the Circuit Court
of Cook County. Most of the cases that she heard were housing disputes involving poor tenants, in which she was perceived as "an understanding but tough grandmother". She continued as a Circuit Court judge until she retired in 1978.
Sampson first married Rufus Sampson, a field agent for the Tuskegee Institute
. They divorced, but she retained the name Edith Sampson as she was already professionally known by it. In 1935, she married lawyer Joseph E. Clayton, with whom she shared her legal practice until his death in 1957. Two of her nephews, Charles T. Spurlock and Oliver Spurlock, were also judges. Her niece, Jeanne Spurlock, became the first African American woman to be dean of an American medical school (Meharry Medical College
). Sampson's great-niece, Lynne Moody
, is an actress who appeared in the television miniseries, Roots