James Dickson Carr was born in Baltimore, Maryland on September 28, 1869. His father, William, was a Presbyterian minister. Though he was born in Maryland, Carr and his family made a couple major moves, resulting in public school attendances throughout New Haven, Connecticut and Elizabeth, New Jersey.
At the age of 18, in 1886, Carr entered the Rutgers College Grammar School. He focused heavily on his studies; however, people who knew him remembered his genuine sincerity and friendliness. Even the Targum, the Rutgers student newspaper, described Carr as having a jovial spirit.
During his time at Rutgers, Carr became very well-known for his public speaking skills as well as his intelligence. In fact, during his junior year in 1891, Carr was selected as one of the orators to compete on Commencement Day; that same year, he was also inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, which is the oldest and most prestigious honor society for the liberal arts and sciences in the United States.
The following year, Carr graduated from Rutgers, becoming the first African American to graduate from the State University of New Jersey. He was immediately admitted to Columbia Law School, where he took classes at the School of Political Science of Columbia University. Four years later, he obtained his law degree and became a member of the New York Bar. By 1899, Carr was appointed Assistant District Attorney of New York County, where he remained until 1901, when he became a member of the New York County Lawyer’s Association. In 1904, he was appointed Assistant Corporation Counsel of the New York City Law Department, where he remained for 16 years.
On July 7, 1915, Carr married Lillie Forrester in New York City. They never had any children. Shortly after their fifth wedding anniversary, Carr died of heart failure in his home in Harlem on July 24, 1920.
Years after Carr’s affluent career and untimely death, the Carr Scholar Program was created in 1985 to honor the first African American graduate of the State University of New Jersey. To date, more than one thousand Carr Scholars have enrolled at Rutgers University.
In 1988, Carr Scholars created the James Dickson Carr Society in order to commemorate the memory of James Dickson Carr and promote cultural awareness, professional development and community service. The society holds weekly meetings that feature debates and discussions, guest speakers and event planning for a variety of activities that encourage volunteerism, leadership and social justice.
- Hero (Top) Feature Image: © Carly Weaver / Best of NJ
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- "James Dickson Carr: First Black Graduate of Rutgers College" / Rutgers.edu (PDF Download)