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James Brister

February 6, 2010

James Brister (1858-1916) was born in Philadelphia, the son of dentist Joseph Brister and his wife Olivia Rebecca Parker Brister. Joseph Brister, also born in Philadelphia around 1835, was a member of the Banneker Institute, organized in 1854 by a group of men interested in literary pursuits and debating, and the Social Civil and Statistical Association, founded in 1860 to focus on suffrage, financial conditions, and civil and social rights in Philadelphia’s Black community. James benefited from his father’s activism, becoming the University of Pennsylvania’s first African American graduate in 1881, from the Dental School. James went on to practice dentistry in Chicago, and in the early 1900s, served as the city’s only African American public official. In his honor, Penn created the James Brister Society in 1993 to improve the quality of the campus experience for students, faculty, and administrators of color.

Ruthie Hubbard
COL ’12

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