That honor belongs to George Boyer Vashon (1824-1878), formerly of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sadly, Mr. Vashon never lived to see his admission, but his story is fascinating.
Mr. Vashon graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees from Oberlin College. He read law under a judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. In 1847, he applied for membership in the Allegheny County Bar, but his application was not considered, entirely based on his race. He was African-American. At the time, the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1838 only extended voting rights to "every white freeman." Since Vashon could not vote, the Bar Association reasoned, he could not be a lawyer. He then applied for admission to the New York Bar and became its first African-American lawyer, and later was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States as well. Subsequently, he served as the President of Avery College in Pittsburgh and taught at Howard University and Alcorn University. He succumbed to yellow fever in 1878.
On May 4, 2010, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania entered a special order granting Vashon's application for admission to the Pennsylvania bar, retroactive to January 1, 1847. The Court stated:
This Court recognizes that George B. Vashon possessed the necessary credentials, competency, and good character to practice law in Pennsylvania in 1847 based upon his bachelor and masters degrees from Oberlin College, his mentorship with the Honorable Walter Forward of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, and his subsequent admissions to practice law in the State of New York and before the U.S. Supreme Court. ... In acknowledgement of Mr. Vashon's credentials and achievements, this Court hereby admits George B. Vashon to the practice of law in the Courts of this Commonwealth posthumously.
The Court also awarded Vashon Attorney Registration Number 1. This year marks 170 years since the denial of his admission.