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“All for Civil Rights”

African-American Congressmen, Judges & Lawmakers in South Carolina, Compiled by W. Lewis Burke

George Lee (1830–1873)

Lee was born and received his early education in Salem, Massachusetts. He, his wife, and his two children moved to South Carolina in 1866 and settled in St. James’ Parish near Charleston. He intended to pursue a living as a cotton planter, but by 1868 he had entered politics. He served as a delegate to the 1868 Constitutional Convention, and later that year was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives by Charleston County. He served three terms in the legislature. He read law with Judge Jonathan Jasper Wright and was admitted to the bar in 1870. He then served as a trial justice in Summerville. In 1872, the General Assembly established the Criminal Court of Charleston, and elected George Lee the first judge of the new inferior court. During his tenure, the Criminal Court had exclusive appellate jurisdiction of all criminal cases from the Charleston magistrate courts and exclusive original jurisdiction of all non-capital criminal cases and those not conferred by law to the trial courts. There is evidence that the criminal court served as a guardian of black civil rights. The state’s circuit court imposed harsher sentences on blacks than the judges of the criminal court. Lee died suddenly at the age of 43 in February 1873.

  • Charleston Daily News, March 14, 1872.
  • Columbia Daily Union, February 20, 1873.
  • U.S. Department of the Interior, Census Office, Ninth Census, 1870, Parish of St. James Goose Creek, Charleston County, South Carolina, series M593, roll 1488, p. 159, s.v. “George Lee.”