Posted on 11/09/2013

Photo taken on May 1, 1890

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George Washington Fields
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Photo replaced on November  9, 2013
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George W Fields: From Slave to Attorney

George W Fields: From Slave to Attorney
When author and Professor of Law Kevin M. Clermont decided to search Cornell University’s digital files for anything on “trials by jury,” he had no idea he would soon stumble upon the nation’s next great addition to the slave narratives. But he did.

Professor Clermont found an unpublished thesis arguing against trial-by-jury. Since Cornell University listed its first African American law school graduate as Mr. Eugene K. Jones, Jr. of the Class of 1936, it was initially assumed that this unpublished thesis was written by a white man named George W. Field, Class of 1890. That assumption was wrong.

After more research, Professor Clermont discovered that Cornell University was almost 50 years off base. George Washington Fields was in fact an African American, and since he graduated in 1890, he was Cornell’s first.

As Mr. Clermont continued to dig into the details about Mr. Fields, he soon realized the enormity of his find: George W. Fields was not only the first black graduate, he was also the first and only ex-slave to graduate from Cornell University’s law school.

This amazing discovery forms the basis of Professor Clermont’s latest book The Indomitable George Washington Fields: From Slave to Attorney, which is divided into three main parts: Details about Mr. Fields’ professional life, his autobiography, and his original thesis.
George Washington Fields was, indeed, indomitable: He was born a slave but escaped from slavery with his mother and siblings during the Civil War. He attended Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) and then, after working both in the south and the north, Cornell Law School. After returning to Hampton, Virginia, he practiced law for forty years until his death in 1932. For most of his years in practice he was blind as the result of an 1896 accident.

Cornell University has always been “an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” Professor Kevin Clermont‘s new book, The Indomitable George Washington Fields, is about Cornell Law School’s first African-American graduate, who received his law degree in 1890, having entered with the school’s very first class in 1887.

Bio/Image: "The Indomitable George Washington Fields: From Slave to Attorney" by Kevin M Clermont, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (June 9, 2013)