John Sweat Rock
Physician, Dentist and Lawyer
Born in 1825 in Salem, New Jersey, John Sweat Rock was a physician, dentist and a lawyer in an era when most African Americans were held in bondage.
The son of free blacks, Dr. John Sweat Rock was one of the first African American men to earn an M.D. in the United States. Dr. Rock apprenticed to two Salem-based White medical doctors, Dr. Shaw and Dr. Gibson and with a dentist, Dr. U. Hubbard. He opened his own dentistry practice in 1850 in Philadelphia and was highly skilled at making dentures. Dr. Rock was awarded his M.D. in 1852 or 1853.
Dr. Rock moved to Boston where he had both a medical and a dental practice. He was given the honor of being one of the first African Americans admitted to the Massachusetts Medical Society and he gave medical aid to fugitive slaves as they passed through Boston on the Underground Railroad.
Unfortunately, because of poor health, Dr. Rock was forced to abandon his medical practices. As a result, Dr. Rock began a study of law and passed the bar in Massachusetts in 1861 and went on to practice law in Massachusetts and in Washington, D.C. On February 1, 1865, Rock was granted admittance to argue cases in front of the United States Supreme Court, the first African American to receive this honor. Dr. Rock was also one of the first African Americans to be invited and received on the floor of the House of Representatives.
By the time Dr. Rock died from tuberculosis in December, 1866, he had spent a great portion of his life arguing for equality for African Americans and was a famous orator on the subject.