Judge George Ruffin; 19th century politician
Joseph H. Nelson | 2/9/2018, 6 a.m.
Honorable George L. Ruffin was born of free parents, George W. and Nancy Lewis Ruffin, in Richmond, Virginia, on Dec. 16, 1834. Advantages for the education of blacks in Virginia were very limited. His parents, who were very anxious about the moral and intellectual development of their children, moved to Boston in 1853 where their family could have the benefit of the schools.
Ruffin attended and graduated from the public schools in Boston. He began work in a barber shop with his books always by his side, and he learned from his daily association with the businessmen of the city who came to the shop. Later he studied law with Jewall and Gatson, and then entered Harvard Law School, where he distinguished himself by completing the three-year course in one year. He graduated in 1869 with the degree of Bachelor of Laws, the second degree ever conferred by Harvard on an African American, and the first from the Law School.
From the old 6th ward, now the 9th ward of Boston, lawyer Ruffin was elected to the Mass. State Legislature in 1869 and served two terms. In 1875 he was elected to the Boston City Council. This recognition was the expression of confidence in the sterling worth, exalted reputation and legal ability of this truly great citizen.
In 1872 he was a delegate to the National Convention held at New Orleans, and part of the time he presided over this body and delivered an eloquent speech on the life and services of Hon. Charles Sumner. Again in 1876 when he was unable to be present at the Lincoln Memorial Club of Cincinnati, where Ruffin was invited to deliver an address, his written thoughts were read for the inspiration of those present.
He was a man of charitable, warm-hearted and generous impulses.
A distinguished-looking man with a rich voice similar to Paul Robeson’s, Judge Ruffin firmly believed in justice, equality and human dignity.
For many years he was a member of the 12th Baptist Church of Boston and Superintendent of its Sunday School. His desire to teach young people that political honor and a Christian life are not necessarily separable.
For years he was a member of Ward 9 Committee. In 1871 he was a Butler delegate in the famous Worcester Convention and made the nomination speech of General Butler for governor. When Butler became governor of Mass., he nominated Ruffin as Judge of the District Court of Charlestown. Although three nominees were rejected, lawyer Ruffin was unanimously confirmed by the Executive Council. General Butler himself administered the oath of office.
In 1883 he was made consul resident for the Dominican Republic and served with honor. Judge Ruffin was the first President of the Wendell Phillips Club of Boston, and was a member and at one time president of the Banneker Club.
He married a Boston native and four children blessed their home.
On Nov. 19, 1886, Judge Ruffin passed away after a long illness. Touching tributes of respect were paid to his memory by many friends and dignitaries. Judge George Lewis Ruffin in his short life compiled an illustrious record of which anyone might be proud.