On this day in history, President John Kennedy nominated James Benton Parsons as United States District Court Judge for Northern Illinois. At the time, Judge Parsons, a native of Missouri and the great-grandson of enslaved people, was serving as a judge on the Superior Court of Cook County, Illinois. The Senate confirmed the nomination on August 30, 1961, making Parsons the first African American federal judge in the continental United States and the first African American federal judge with life tenure. Prior to his appointment, African Americans had been appointed solely to fixed judicial terms on the United States District Court for the Virgin Islands.
In 1992, after 30 years of service, Judge Parsons retired from active trial duty. He died in Chicago, Illinois, the following year, at 81.