Deval Patrick

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Deval L. Patrick

“I like firsts,” said Governor Deval L. Patrick, who became the first African American to be elected governor of Massachusetts in 2006, and the first to be re-elected anywhere in 2010. As governor, he made it possible for other “firsts” to further break down racial barriers. He appointed Roderick Ireland as the first African American Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court and Geraldine Hines as the first female African American Associate Justice.

Patrick grew up in Chicago’s South Side, a vibrant and complex community troubled by drugs and crime. With strong guidance from his mother and teachers, Patrick headed to New England with a scholarship to Milton Academy in Massachusetts. He became the first in his family to attend college, earning degrees at Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he headed the school’s Legal Aid Bureau.

Subsequently, Patrick joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund where his cases included voting rights and fair legal representation. In 1994, Patrick was appointed by President Bill Clinton to be assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Justice Department, where he oversaw investigations into church burnings and other racist acts in the South.

Patrick handily won the Massachusetts governorship, calling the win “a victory for hope.” With the authority to make judicial appointments, he sought to offer a system that better reflected society. For people entering the courthouse, “it might be the worst day of their lives,” he said, so it is imperative that they sense the possibility of justice. Governor Patrick believed that was best achieved when appearing before judges who were likely to share or at least understand their backgrounds.

Patrick speaking at his inauguration
Thousands of people crowd in Boston Common to hear Governor Patrick’s first Inaugural Address, January 4, 2007. Courtesy of The Boston Globe / John Tlumacki.