Jessie Pharr Slaton dedicated her life to the service of the people of Detroit and of Michigan. In 1933, she held a secretarial position in Detroit City Hall, becoming one of the first African-Americans in Detroit City government to hold a white-collar job.1 A woman of quiet confidence and strength, she excelled in her work despite hostility and remained with the City until she enrolled in Wayne State University and began a career as a special education teacher with the Detroit Public Schools.
Slaton was also heavily involved in the civil rights movement during this time. She was a leader in the efforts of black women to play a larger role in their struggle for equality. Her political interests and involvement led her to eventually take up law as a profession with the aim of public service and the defense of human rights. In 1972, Slaton was appointed as the first woman referee in the Recorder’s Court Traffic and Ordinance Division. Six years later, Governor Miliken appointed her to the office of Common Pleas Judge in the City of Detroit, a position which she held until her retirement at the age of 70. Following her retirement, Slaton continued to devote herself to the people of Michigan by serving as the chairperson of the State Crime Victims Compensation Board. Jessie Pharr Slaton overcame the barriers of her race and her sex, and in doing so, built bridges for other minorities and women to enter the legal profession. She was a woman willing to stand in the gap.
1 Jessie P. Slaton, Vertical Biography File. Library of Michigan.