Listen to this story
The First Female Deputy Solicitor General of the U.S. Was Born
Jewel Lafontant was a political advisor and lawyer who was born on April 28, 1922, in Chicago, Illinois. Lafontant’s father was C. Francis Stradford, an attorney and co-founder of the National Bar Association.
Her father groomed her to become a lawyer. Lafontant spent her childhood in Chicago and received a degree in political science from Oberlin College in 1943. Three years later, she earned her Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago Law School, becoming the first Black woman to graduate from the prestigious law school.
Lafontant was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1947 and that same year she took on cases as a trial lawyer for the Legal Aid Bureau of Chicago, which provided free legal representation for the poor.
Lafontant embraced the work she was performing at the Legal Aid Bureau of Chicago. She also became active with the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union. Lafontant, along with her then-husband, John Rogers, Sr., established the Rogers, Rogers and Strayhorn Law firm.
By 1955, Lafontant had distinguished herself in the law field that she was appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. With this appointment, she became the first African-American woman Assistant U.S. Attorney.
In 1963, Lafontant argued and won her first case before the United States Supreme Court. She decided to expand her political reach and took an active role in the Republican National Convention of 1960. Former President Richard Nixon appointed Lafontant as the first African American deputy solicitor general in 1973. She also held the role of U.S. ambassador-at-large, U.S. coordinator for refugee affairs and vice-chairperson of the U.S. Advisory Commission on International, Educational and Cultural Affairs during the George H. W. Bush’s administration.
The pioneer political advisor and lawyer ended her career with numerous awards and honorary degrees. Lafontant died on May 31, 1997 at the age of 75.