Oscar Stanton De Priest
Oscar Stanton De Priest.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st district
March 4, 1929 – January 3, 1935
Preceded by Martin B. Madden
Succeeded by Arthur W. Mitchell
Born March 9, 1871
Died May 12, 1951 (aged 80)
Resting place Graceland Cemetery
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Jessie De Priest
Children Laurence W. De Priest
Oscar Stanton De Priest, Jr.
Oscar Stanton De Priest (March 9, 1871 – May 12, 1951) was an American lawmaker and civil rights advocate who served as a U.S. Representative from Illinois from 1929 to 1935. He was the first African American to be elected to Congress from outside the southern states and the first in the 20th century.
1 Early life
3 Personal life
De Priest was born in 1871 in Florence, Alabama, to freedmen, former slaves. He had a brother named Robert. His mother, Martha Karsner, worked part-time as a laundress, and his father Neander was a teamster associated with the "Exodus" movement. After the Civil War, thousands of blacks escaped continued oppression in the South by moving to other states that offered greater freedom, such as Kansas. In 1878, the De Priests left for Dayton, Ohio, after the elder De Priest had to save his friend, former U.S. Representative James T. Rapier, from a lynch mob, and another black man was killed on their doorstep.
In Salina, Kansas, De Priest studied bookkeeping at the Salina Normal School. In 1889 he moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he worked as an apprentice plasterer, house painter, and decorator, and eventually became a successful contractor and real estate broker. He went on to build a fortune in the stock market and in real estate by helping black families move into formerly all-white neighborhoods. From 1904 to 1908, he was a member of the board of commissioners of Cook County, Illinois. He was elected to the Chicago City Council, serving from 1915 to 1917 as alderman from the 2nd Ward. He was Chicago’s first black alderman.
De Priest was indicted for alleged graft in 1917 and resigned from the City Council. He hired Clarence Darrow as his defense attorney and was acquitted.
In 1919, De Priest ran unsuccessfully for alderman as a member of the People's Movement Club, a political organization he founded. In a few years, De Priest's became the most powerful of Chicago's many black political organizations, and he became the top black politician under Chicago Republican mayor William Hale Thompson.
De Priest in May 1922
In 1928, when Republican congressman Martin B. Madden died, Mayor Thompson selected De Priest to replace him on the ballot. He became the first African American elected to Congress in the 20th century, representing the 1st Congressional District of Illinois (the Loop and part of the South Side of Chicago) as a Republican. During his three consecutive terms (1929–1935) as the only black representative in Congress, De Priest introduced several anti-discrimination bills.
His 1933 amendment barring discrimination in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A second anti-lynching bill failed, even though it would not have made lynching a federal crime. A third proposal, a bill to permit a transfer of jurisdiction if a defendant believed he or she could not get a fair trial because of race or religion, was passed by a later Congress.
Civil rights activists criticized De Priest for opposing federal aid to the poor, but they applauded him for speaking in the South despite death threats. They also praised De Priest for telling an Alabama senator he was not big enough to prevent him from dining in the Senate restaurant, and for defending the right of students of the black Howard University to eat in the House restaurant. De Priest took the House restaurant issue to a special bipartisan House committee.
In a three-month-long heated debate, the Republican minority argued that the restaurant's discriminatory practice violated 14th Amendment rights to equal access. The Democratic majority skirted the issue by claiming that the restaurant was not open to the public, and the House restaurant remained segregated.
In 1929, De Priest made national news when first lady Lou Hoover invited his wife, Jessie, to a tea for congressional wives at the White House. He also appointed Benjamin O. Davis Jr. to the U. S. Military Academy at a time when the army had only one African-American line officer (Davis's father).
By the early 1930s, De Priest's popularity waned because he continued to oppose higher taxes on the rich and fought Depression-era federal relief programs. De Priest was defeated in 1934 by Democrat Arthur W. Mitchell, who was also an African American. He was again elected to the Chicago City Council in 1943 as alderman of the 3rd Ward and served until 1947. He died in Chicago at 80 and is buried in Graceland Cemetery.
Oscar married the former Jessie L. Williams (c. 1873 – March 31, 1961). This union produced two sons: Laurence W. (c. 1900 – July 28, 1916). and Oscar Stanton De Priest, Jr. (May 24, 1906 – November 8, 1983)
His house in Chicago, on 45th and King Drive is a National Historic Landmark.[citation needed