JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Stanton College Preparatory School freshman, Jayah Peoples, 15, created a portrait of the first Black female judge in the United States as Duval County's first elected Black female judge, Rhonda Peoples Waters shares the story of Jane Bolin.
“It's been said that kids can't become what they can't see,” Peoples Waters said while reading a passage about Bolin’s life.
Jane Bolin had a front row seat to the law. Her father in the late 1800s had his own law practice in Poughkeepsie, New York an area surrounded by smaller towns where the Ku Klux Klan was active. The presence of racism was felt and seen but didn't serve its purpose as a deterrent.
With her sights set on the justice system, Bolin graduated high school at 15-years-old and enrolled in Wellesley College at 16. Looking past ridicule, social isolation and the incessant ‘no's’ hurled her way, she would become many firsts.
1931 - 1st Black woman to earn a law degree from Yale
1939 - 1st Black female judge in the United States
1943 - 1st Black woman to join the Association of the Bar in New York City
Appointed in 1939 as judge over the Domestic Relations Court she served there for 40 years. A mother of one and protector of many, Bolin presided in every borough of the city. Her job, she said, was not to punish but to help.
As a family court judge she helped end the assignment of probation officers on the basis of race and the placement of children in child-care agencies based on ethnic background.
Reluctantly, Bolin retired in 1978. Because of her countless others can now see the possibilities when pushing past the word ‘no.’
Bolin died in 2007 at the age of 98. Her vision and accomplishments are everlasting.
Peoples Waters says she can relate to Bolin’s tenacity. She made history after 18 attempts to become a judge, including 17 applications for judicial appointment and one prior election. While other Black women have been appointed as judges in Duval County by governors, Peoples Waters is the first Black woman to gain a judicial seat by an election.
Every Wednesday throughout the month of November First Coast News will share similar stories narrated by prominent Jacksonville figures illustrated by talented local students.