(Dec. 23, 1910-Oct. 17, 1990). Mercer M. Mance was born and raised in Beaufort, South Carolina. He went on to receive a B.A. degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1931. He graduated from Harvard University Law School in 1934 and moved to Indianapolis shortly afterward to set up a law practice.

Mercer M. Mance raises his hand in front of a judge in a court room.
Mercer M. Mance was sworn in as the first African American Marion County Superior Court Judge in 1958. Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

A Democrat, Mance served as state supervisor for the federal government’s National Youth Administration from 1936 to 1938, Marion County pauper attorney from 1938 to 1939, Marion County deputy prosecuting attorney from 1939 to 1941, and Indiana deputy attorney general from 1941 to 1943. Also during his career, he was city attorney, an Indianapolis Board of Public Safety member, an Indiana Public Service Commission hearing examiner, and served on the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights as well as the Marion County Social Health Council’s board of directors.

In 1958, Mance was elected as Marion County Superior Court judge, becoming the first African American to be elected to such a post in the state. After serving three more terms as judge, he returned to his private law practice in 1978 and retired in 1989.

During World War II, Mance served in the Army Signal Corps. In addition, he worked in his community through opportunities like being on the Bethel Ame Church’s board of trustees, an Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity member, a Fall Creek YMCA board of management member, an Elk, and a 33rd degree Mason. He was honored as Alpha Phi Alpha’s Man of the Year in 1958, was on the Indianapolis Recorder’s Race Relations Honor Roll in 1959, received Howard University’s alumni recognition award in 1984, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s appreciation award in 1984, and the Rufus C. Kuykendall Freedom, Justice, and Equality award in 1985 and 1988.

Revised February 2021

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