Deiz, Mercedes F. L. (Mercedes Frances Lopez), 1917-2005

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Deiz, Mercedes F. L. (Mercedes Frances Lopez), 1917-2005

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Mercedes Frances Deiz, nee Lopez, was born in 1917 to a Czech mother and a Cuban father in New York City. She attended Hunter College in New York from 1936 to 1939, but did not graduate. While she was attending Hunter, she and Billy Owens were married in 1937; they later had one child. Deiz came to Oregon in 1948 in order to obtain a divorce, which was finalized in 1949. Although she originally planned to return to New York afterward, she fell in love with Portland, Oregon, and remained. She was inspired to get involved with the NAACP and Urban League after being refused service at a drive-in restaurant in Portland, which she described as the first overt racial discrimination she had ever experienced. She met Carl Deiz while working at the IRS and they were married in 1949; they later had two children. She worked in the law library at the Bonneville Power Administration from 1949 to 1953, then as a legal secretary for Graham Walker in 1954. Walker encouraged her to become a lawyer. Walker paid the tuition for Deiz's first semester at the Northwestern College of Law. She earned her law degree in 1959. She passed the bar in 1960 and practiced law in Portland until 1967, when she became a hearing officer for the Oregon Workman's Compensation Board, the first woman to hold that position. In 1969, Governor Tom McCall appointed Deiz to the U.S. District Court of Oregon, making her the first black woman judge in Oregon. In 1973, she was elected to the Oregon Circuit Court. She took senior status in 1992. She died in 2005.

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