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James Mercer Langston

James Mercer Langston, namesake of James Mercer Langston Hughes, graduated from Oberlin College in 1849.

Langston was an abolitionist, lawyer, politician, legislator, and theologian; he also went on to found the Howard University law school and become its first dean. The founding of the school came after Langston became the nation’s first black elected official when he was elected as township clerk in Brownhelm, Ohio.

Langston wanted to practice law and his formal legal training came after searching for a white lawyer to let him apprentice and finding no one to train him until 1853.

One of Langston’s petitions as an apprentice was to the Ohio legislature insisting that all African Americans be allowed to vote because at that time only the lightest-skinned blacks were allowed. His motion failed, but he continued to petition the legislature. 

After completing his apprenticeship, Langston had to petition to sit for the bar examination. A hearing was convened and only after the committee was astounded by his knowledge of the law was he allowed to sit. He became the first black member of the bar in Ohio. 

After winning a trial against a white lawyer for his white client, Langston’s knowledge of the law was validated and this led to his ability to found the Howard University law school in 1869. 

Note: Oberlin admitted its first black student in 1835. His name was James Bradley.