Little Known Black History Fact: Edith Sampson

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  • Edith Sampson was the first black person appointed to the United Nations. She was a Pittsburgh native who found her calling in social work. Sampson was forced to leave school at age 14 to work and support her family but later graduated from college. She was encouraged to attend law school and would graduate number one in her class at John Marshall Law School in 1925. Unfortunately, she did not pass the bar exam the first time around.

    For several years,Sampson practiced in her own law office to serve the black community in the south side of Chicago. She later worked as a probation officer. After enrolling at Loyola, she became the first woman to get a Masters of Law degree from the University in 1927. This time, Sampson passed the bar. With her new credentials, she worked as the Assistant State’s Attorney in Cook County.

    Sampson became involved with international affairs and embarked on a world lecture tour alongside 25 intellectuals from around the country. While on tour, she spoke to dignitaries from foreign countries on world issues. Sampson presented her views on Soviet propaganda and established a social work program in Pakistan, using money that was donated to her from the Prime Minister’s wife. Her speeches on foreign policy and affairs were intertwined with the civil rights struggle in America.

    Sampson was noticed by President Harry S. Truman, who then appointed her as an alternate Delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations. She was the first black woman to hold this honor.

    By 1952, Sampson had been re-appointed to the UN to serve an additional term. Then in 1961, she became the first black U.S. representative to NATO.

    Returning to statewide duties a year later, Sampson ran for Municipal Court Judge in Chicago and won. She held the honor of being the first black woman to be elected as a judge in the state of Illinois.

    Edith Sampson died in October 1979.

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