Francis Lewis Cardozo

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Francis Lewis Cardozo (February 1, 1836 – July 22, 1903) was a clergyman, politician, and educator. He was the first African American to hold a statewide office in the United States. He was born in Charleston, South Carolina and died in Washington, DC.

Early years[edit]

Francis Cardozo was the son of a free black woman, Lydia Weston, and a Portuguese Jewish man, Isaac Cardozo, who worked at the customhouse. He attended schools for free blacks. Cardozo worked as a carpenter and a shipbuilder.

In 1858, he matriculated at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Later, he attended seminaries in Edinburgh and London. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister.

In 1864, he became pastor of the Temple Street Congregational Church in New Haven, Connecticut. He married Catherine Rowena Howell. They had six children, four sons and two daughters.

In 1865, he returned to Charleston as an agent of the American Missionary Association. He succeeded his brother, Thomas, as superintendent of an American Missionary Association school. He rebuilt this school into the Avery Normal Institute, one of the first free secondary schools for African Americans. It was established to train teachers, as freedmen sought education as one of their highest priorities. In the 21st century, the Avery Institute has been incorporated as part of the College of Charleston.

Political career[edit]

He was a delegate to the 1868 South Carolina constitutional convention. As chair of the education committee, he advocated integrated public schools.

When elected secretary of state in 1868, Cardozo became the first African American to hold a statewide office in the United States. He reformed the South Carolina Land Commission, which distributed land to former slaves.

He was elected state treasurer in 1872. After he did not cooperate with corruption, some legislators unsuccessfully tried to impeach Cardozo in 1874. He was reelected in 1874 and 1876.

The 1876 gubernatorial election season was marked by violence to suppress black voting, ending with fraud at the polls and disputes over counts, with the Democrats regained control of the state government. A compromise at the national level led to the federal government supporting Wade Hampton III's case, and in 1877 federal troops were withdrawn from the South. Hampton demanded Cardozo's resignation and he left office on May 1, 1877.

The Democrats prosecuted Cardozo for conspiracy in November 1877. Despite questionable evidence, he was found guilty and served over six months in jail. After federal election fraud charges were dropped against some Democrats, he was pardoned by Governor William Dunlap Simpson in 1879.

Cardozo moved to Washington, DC, and accepted a position with the Treasury Department.


In 1884, Cardozo returned to education as a principal of the Colored Preparatory High School. He introduced a business curriculum and made it a leading school for African Americans. He served as principal until 1896. Cardozo Senior High School in northwest Washington, DC, is named for Francis Cardozo.[1]

He was a distant relative of former United States Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo.[2] His granddaughter, Eslanda Cardozo Goode, was the wife of the singer and political activist Paul Robeson.


  1. ^ "Who is Francis L. Cardozo". Francis L. Cardozo Senior High School. Retrieved May 26, 2013. 
  2. ^ Chafets, Zev (April 2, 2009). "Obama's Rabbi". The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2013.