Samuel Riley Pierce, Jr., was the first black partner in a major New York firm, the first black member of a Fortune 500 board, and one of the first black attorneys to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Pierce was born in 1922 in Glen Cove, New York. He received a football scholarship to Cornell University. After serving in World War II, where he was the only black American agent in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division of the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, he returned to Cornell and graduated with honors in 1947, then earned a J.D. from Cornell Law School and an LL.M. in taxation from New York University School of Law.
Pierce professional career began in 1949 in New York first as an assistant district attorney and then as an assistant U.S. Attorney. In 1955, he moved to Washington, D.C. for several public office appointments and later taught law at Yale University and New York University.
In 1959 and again 1960, New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller appointed Pierce to fill two judgeship vacancies. When Pierce failed in his re-election bids for the seats, he returned to private law practice where he specialized in labor, tax, and antitrust cases.
Pierce defended several civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr during the 1960s. He also defended The New York Times in a civil rights case before the Supreme Court. In 1964, he founded the first New York state commercial bank with a majority of African American officers. Pierce died in 2000 at his home in Glen Cove, New York at the age of 78.