The George Lewis Ruffin Society

Overview and Mission

The George Lewis Ruffin Society was established in 1894 and is now based at Northeastern University to support minorities studying in the Massachusetts criminal justice system. The Society was founded in honor of George Lewis Ruffin, who was the first African American to graduate from Harvard Law School in 1869 and was later elected the first African American to serve on the Boston City Council in 1875. In 1883, Ruffin became the first African American judge in the United States.


The Ruffin Society’s goals are to create greater understanding between the minority community and the criminal justice profession, as well as to promote and encourage the advancement of minorities in the field of criminal justice and the legal field at large. The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice is a key partner to the Ruffin Society in promoting these goals. For instance, the Ruffin Society sponsors community education programs and exam preparation courses to assist police officers of color in achieving promotion in the Boston Police Department.

Photo of George Lewis Ruffin by Melvin Robbins, Courtesy Harvard Law Library
Photo courtesy of

"Long Road to Justice" Traveling Exhibition

The Long Road to Justice seeks to educate viewers about the struggles, sacrifices and successes of African Americans in the Massachusetts legal system since the arrival of the first slaves in 1638. The exhibition explores themes such as the slave trade, the path to accessible education, participation in the justice system, leadership roles in courts, and other historical events.

This stunning history summons us to embrace the unrelenting quest for a legal system that includes and respects all, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation.” –

Past Events with the Ruffin Society

Reception with the Boston Police Department


In January 2019, the Northeastern School of Criminology and Criminal Justice hosted the George Lewis Ruffin Society Reception in honor of Boston Police Commissioner William Gross and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins. Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville Bard, Director of The John D. O’Bryant African American Institute Richard O’Bryant, and a host of others were on hand to enjoy the celebration. Photos are courtesy of the Boston Police Department.

Convocation on Race and Justice in Massachusetts and America


In April 2017, the Ruffin Society held the Convocation on Race and Justice in Massachusetts and America, during which a distinguished group of judges, academics, law enforcement officials, and community leaders convened to discuss race and criminal justice in America today. Read more on Northeastern News. Photos are courtesy of Northeastern University Photographer Matthew Modoono.