Parsons worked his way through Millikin University as a composing room helper at the Decatur Herald Review . Parsons earned a B.A. in music in 1934. Parsons could not afford law school, so he joined the faculty of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri where he taught music and political science. Parsons served as acting head of Lincoln University’s Music Department from 1938 to 1940. He also continued his education, earning a B.A. in political science from Washington University (St. Louis, Missouri) in 1940. Parsons then accepted a job with the Greensboro, North Carolina public school system as supervisor of instrumental music for the black schools.
Parsons belonged to several fraternities, including Kappa Alpha Psi as an undergraduate and Sigma Pi Phi as a graduate student. He was also a member of the Phi Beta Phi Honor Society and an honorary member of Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity. In 1949, at the age of 38, Parsons became an attorney upon receiving his law degree from the University of Chicago.
On August 9, 1961, President John F. Kennedy nominated James Benton Parsons as United States District Court Judge for Northern Illinois.
|Judge James Benton Parsons|
Judge Parsons went on to accomplish other significant firsts within his position as a district court judge. On April 17, 1975, he became the first Black Chief Judge of a District Court; one month later, he was elected the first Black representative to the United States Judicial Conference. In 1992, after 30 years of service, Judge Parsons retired from active trial duty.
He died in Chicago, in 1993 at 81 years old. He is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Decatur, Illinois.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.