Tag: universal suffrage

The First African-American Presidential Candidate

On day one of black history month, I mentioned my intense admiration for Shirley Chisholm – so I won’t talk about her again for presidents’ day (although she is in my heart today as all days). Instead, I’ll point to the first African American who ran for president – George Edwin Taylor, in 1904. He was an Iowan journalist, running outside of the major parties, but not as an independent; he was selected by the delegates of the National Liberty Party.

The NLP wanted universal suffrage regardless of race, federal laws against lynching, pensions for former slaves, and more. (The more includes home rule for the District of Columbia, something on which the major parties are still largely silent.) Taylor knew he had no chance of winning, but figured that the fact of his running would help encourage blacks to register to vote, which would have implications beyond the presidential election. (He was a smart guy who had done a lot of labor organizing.)

He got 2000 votes nationally, which doesn’t sound like a lot but is more votes than YOU’VE ever gotten for president.

From the NPR interview linked below, to show you why it’s worth reading:

“David Brodnax: Given the fact that Taylor received fewer than 2,000 votes when he ran for president in 1904, it is hard to call him “the right man at the right time.” Another way to look at this is to ask why he in particular became the first African American to run for president; why did he do what Frederick Douglass, T. Thomas Fortune, Blanche K. Bruce, and other leading black politicians before him could or would not.”

A Forgotten Presidential Candidate from 1904,” a Linton Weeks interview with┬áTrinity Christian College historian David Broadnax


Passing the 15th Amendment

Opinion writers who say “we’ve never had an incoming president this openly racist and sexist” are not historians, and are not thinking further back than maybe the late 1970s. Considering how crap a lot of the past was, that’s not the cheeriest reassurance, but here’s something I’ve tried to keep in mind.

When the 15th amendment passed, neither most African Americans nor most women could vote, none of them were in Congress, and several northern states had recently voted against black male suffrage in their legislatures (wanting to free the slaves didn’t mean wanting blacks at your political gatherings, ew.) It was a time when the economy was not great; a time when people in power were frightened about what might be taken away from them.

The “radicals” won anyway, because we are VERY PERSUASIVE.

The 15th Amendment passed the all-white, all-male House of Representatives 144-44, and the all-white, all-male Senate 39-13. It was then ratified by 28 states, including Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. It wasn’t easy, it certainly wasn’t inevitable, and it didn’t get us to where we needed to be. But it was pretty impressive, no? Makes all this seem less daunting.