Horace Scurry: Our First African-American Law Student

Horace S. Scurry was one of many fascinating individuals who passed through the Milwaukee Law School between the time of its founding in the early 1890’s and its merger with Marquette University in 1908.  He appears to have been the first African-American to join the ranks of that institution’s students.

Details of Scurry’s life are meager.  He was born in 1865 in Delaware, Ohio, and first arrived in Milwaukee in 1882 at age 17.  He attended school in Milwaukee and then returned to Ohio, where he enrolled in Ohio Wesleyan College (which was in his hometown of Delaware).  The college catalog listed him as a Milwaukee resident, and he apparently entered college with the intention of becoming a teacher. In 1900, he was working at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, as the steward of the teachers’ house and, reportedly, as a teacher.

He returned to Milwaukee at some point and enrolled in the Milwaukee Law School.

Although he studied law, he does not appear to have been admitted to the bar.  The Milwaukee Law School was designed to prepare students for admission to the Wisconsin bar and did not award degrees of its own.  However, in 1908, following the merger, Marquette University awarded a law degree to any former student of the Milwaukee Law School who had been admitted to the Wisconsin bar.  Scurry’s name does not appear on the list of degree recipients, although it is possible that he was admitted but did not bother to apply for the Marquette degree.

In any event, Scurry’s future was in neither education nor law, but in religion.  In the early twentieth century (if not sooner), he became an ordained Baptist minister. He was affiliated with the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Milwaukee (a black Baptist church) and with the Wisconsin State Baptist Convention.  After his entry into the ranks of the clergy, he retained an interest in politics and public affairs.  The archives of the American Socialist Party contain a letter written to Scurry by Norman Thomas, the party’s perennial presidential candidate.

In 1935, Scurry, aged 70 and retired from the ministry, was awarded a monthly old-age pension of $30 from the Milwaukee county court.  A story in the December 17, 1935, edition of the Milwaukee Journal reported the award of the pension by County Judge John C. Karel and mentioned Scurry’s prior affiliation with the Milwaukee Law School.  Scurry died on June 6, 1943, still affiliated with the Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

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