December 1


December 1, 1882 John Alexander Sommerville, businessman and politician, was born in Jamaica. Sommerville immigrated to the United States in 1900 and in 1903 entered the University of Southern California School of Dentistry. His white classmates were so opposed to his presence that they threatened to boycott the class. Sommerville persisted and in 1907 graduated first in his class with the highest score recorded at the time. He also was the first black person to graduate from the school. Sommerville opened a dental office in Los Angeles, California and became the first black member of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. In 1914, Sommerville and his wife founded the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association of Colored People and built a 26-unit apartment building for African Americans. In 1928, they opened the Hotel Sommerville. In 1936, Sommerville became the first black delegate to the California Democratic National Convention and from 1949 to 1953 he served as the first black appointed to the Los Angeles Police Commission. In 1954, he was declared an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to Anglo-American relations. Sommerville published his autobiography, “Man of Color, An Autobiography of Dr. J. Alexander Sommerville: A Factual Report on the Status of the American Negro Today,” in 1949. Sommerville died in 1973 and today portraits of he and his wife hang in the USC dental school with the inscription “Do not wait for your ship to come in. Row out and meet it.” Also, Sommerville Place was established at USC as an African American themed residential community for freshmen students.


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