John S. Rock was born to free African American parents John and Maria in Salem, New Jersey on October 13, 1825.
Although attending school in his formative years was rare for African American children, his parents pushed him to focus on his education. John did exactly what his parents required him and earned enough to allow him to become a teacher. In 1844, he landed a job in a Salem class from where he would continue for four years.
John had an amazing work ethic, so much so he got the attention of fellow teachers. He began teacher classes longer and offered private tutor classes. Dr. Shaw and Dr. Gibson, two distinguished medical doctors taught him all they knew about medicine. John started his apprenticeship, to that he could gaining the appropriate medical training to pursue his career. In 1848, John applied to medical school but was denied due to his race.
In 1849, John transferred to a dentistry and started his apprenticeship under Dr. Harber who had recently opened a dental practice in Philadelphia in 1850. A year after he was awarded a medal for his work on a set of silver dentures. John applied to American Medical College in Philadelphia and was admitted. In 1852, he graduated becoming the f1st African American earn a degree in medicine.
John was proud of his accomplishments, at the age of 27 he had established himself and was well-respected as a teacher, dentist, and physician.
John was also known as a passionate abolitionist and civil rights leader. John became a part of the national Equal Rights League, along with many other famous abolitionist including Fredrick Douglass, Henry H. Garnet and many others.
John is known for coining the phrase “Black is Beautiful” during a speech in March 1858 at Faneuil Hall. It was later said that although he did not speak those exact works, rather saying something similar like “the beautiful, rich color of the negro”.
In 1856, John traveled to Paris seeking medical attention after being denied a passport. Upon his return doctor’s orders stated that he needed to cut his workload to remain healthy. During this time, he decided to study law. John passed and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. He began to work even harder for the rights of African Americans.
John felt as though he was not making any head way for his fellow African Americans and strive to achieve another level in which he could make more of an impact. February 1, 1865, congress approved the 13th Amendment ending slavery. Charles Sumner put forth a motion that made John the 1st African American to be admitted to the bar of the US Supreme Court and also the 1st African American to be received on the floor the US House of Representatives.
The Civil Rights Acts which enforced the 13th Amendment was passed on April 9, 1866. John was excited and happy, but shortly after fell ill. On December 3, 1866 he passed away in his mother home at the age of 41. He was laid to rest and buried in Everett’s Woodlawn Cemetery.