In honor of Black History Month we celebrate Sheriff Joseph Lee Somerville Sr., who was the first African-American to be elected Sheriff in both the state of Maryland and in St. Mary’s County.
Sheriff Somerville began his career as a Deputy Sheriff with the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office in 1966. At that time, Sheriff Somerville was also the first African-American Deputy Sheriff to join the agency. By 1976, Sheriff Somerville had earned the rank of Lieutenant. In March of 1977, Sheriff Somerville was appointed Sheriff by Maryland Governor Mandel to finish out the term of Sheriff George Sanger, who died during his term.
At the time of Somerville’s appointment, there were five African-Americans holding the position of Sheriff in the United States. Sheriff Somerville finished out the remainder of Sanger’s term, and in 1978 launched a vigorous election campaign. Much of his campaign platform focused on leadership, experience and integrity. Sheriff Somerville was successful in his campaign and was elected Sheriff of St. Mary’s County again in 1978.
Sheriff Somerville continued to serve his community for many years as a bailiff for Judge Karen H. Abrams of the St. Mary’s County Circuit Court. Sheriff Somerville is proud to have two of his sons follow in his footsteps; son Kevin retired from the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office after serving 25 years, and son Joseph is proudly carrying on his father’s legacy with over 24 years of service thus far with the Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Somerville continues to enjoy his retirement and resides in St. Mary’s County with his wife of nearly 60 years, Delores.