Oscar Stanton De Priest
|Oscar Stanton De Priest|
|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|
March 9, 1871|
Florence, Alabama, U.S.
May 12, 1951 (aged 80)|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Resting place||Graceland Cemetery|
|Spouse(s)||Jessie De Priest|
Laurence W. De Priest|
Oscar Stanton De Priest, Jr.
Oscar Stanton De Priest (March 9, 1871 – May 12, 1951) was an American Republican politician and civil rights advocate from Chicago who served as a U.S. Representative from Illinois' 1st congressional district from 1929 to 1935. De Priest was the first African American to be elected to Congress from outside the southern states, the first in the 20th century and the first since the Reconstruction Era. During his three terms, he was the only African American serving in Congress.
Born in Alabama to freedmen parents, De Priest was raised in Dayton, Ohio. He studied business and made a fortune in Chicago as a contractor, and in real estate and the stock market before the Crash. In Congress, he spoke out against racial discrimination, including at speaking events in the South; tried to integrate the House public restaurant; gained passage of an amendment to desegregate the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the work programs under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal; and introduced anti-lynching legislation to the House (it was not passed because of the Solid South Democratic opposition). In 1935, De Priest was defeated by Arthur W. Mitchell, the first African American to be elected as a Democrat to Congress. He returned to Chicago and his successful business ventures, eventually returning to politics, when elected a Chicago alderman in the 1940s.
De Priest was born in 1871 in Florence, Alabama, to freedmen, former slaves of mixed race. 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 left continued oppression by whites in the South by moving to other states that offered promises of freedom and greater economic opportunities, such as Kansas. Others moved later in the century.
In 1878, the year after Reconstruction had ended and federal troops been withdrawn from the region, the De Priests left Alabama for Dayton, Ohio. Violence had increased in Alabama as whites had tried to restore white supremacy: the elder De Priest had to save his friend, former U.S. Representative James T. Rapier, from a lynch mob, and a black man was killed on their doorstep. The boy Oscar attended local schools in Dayton.
De Priest went to Salina, Kansas, to study bookkeeping at the Salina Normal School, established also for the training of teachers. In 1889 he moved to Chicago, Illinois, which had been booming as an industrial city. He worked first as an apprentice plasterer, house painter, and decorator. He became a successful contractor and real estate broker. He built a fortune in the stock market and in real estate by helping black families move into formerly all-white neighborhoods, often ones formerly occupied by ethnic white immigrants and their descendants. There was population succession in many neighborhoods under the pressure of new migrants. From 1904 to 1908, De Priest was a member of the board of commissioners of Cook County, Illinois.
De Priest was elected in 1914 to the Chicago City Council, serving from 1915 to 1917 as alderman from the 2nd Ward, on the South Side. He was Chicago's first black alderman. In 1917 De Priest was indicted for alleged graft and resigned from the City Council. He hired nationally known 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 black political organization became the most powerful of many in Chicago, and he became the top black politician under Chicago Republican mayor William Hale Thompson.
In 1928, when Republican congressman Martin B. Madden died, Mayor Thompson selected De Priest to replace him on the ballot. He was the first African American elected to Congress outside the South and the first to be elected in the 20th century. He represented the 1st Congressional District of Illinois (which included The Loop and part of the South Side of Chicago) as a Republican. During De Priest's three consecutive terms (1929–1935), he was the only black representative in Congress. He introduced several anti-discrimination bills during these years of the Great Depression.
DePriest's 1933 amendment barring discrimination in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a program of the New Deal to employ people across the country in building infrastructure, was passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His anti-lynching bill failed due to opposition by the white conservative Democrats of the Solid South, although it would not have made lynching a federal crime. (Previous anti-lynching bills had also failed to pass the Senate, which was dominated by the South since its disenfranchisement of blacks at the turn of the century.) 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. Nevertheless, they applauded him for making public speeches 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 private Senate restaurant. (Some Congressmen ate in the Senate restaurant to avoid De Priest, who usually ate in the Members Dining Room designated for Congressmen.) The public areas of the House and Senate restaurants were segregated. The House accepted that De Priest sometimes brought black staff or visitors to the Members Dining Room, but objected when he entertained mixed groups there.
De Priest defended the right of students of Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C., to eat in the public section of the House restaurant and not be restricted to a section in the basement near the kitchen, used mostly by black employees and visitors. He took this issue of discrimination against the students (and other black visitors) to a special bipartisan House committee. In a three-month-long heated debate, the Republican political 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 a private facility and not open to the public. The House restaurant remained segregated due to white conservatives through much of the 1940s and maybe as late as 1952.
In 1929, De Priest made national news when First Lady Lou Hoover invited his wife, Jessie, to a traditional tea for congressional wives at the White House.
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 under President Roosevelt. De Priest was defeated in 1934 by Democrat Arthur W. Mitchell, who was also African-American. After returning to his businesses and political life in Chicago, De Priest was elected again to the Chicago City Council in 1943 as alderman of the 3rd Ward, serving 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). They had two sons together: Laurence W. (c. 1900 – July 28, 1916), who died at the age of 16 and Oscar Stanton De Priest, Jr. (May 24, 1906 – November 8, 1983) A great-grandson of Oscar De Priest, Jr., Philip R. DePriest, became the administrator of his estate after his grandmother's death in 1992. This included his great-grandfather's Oscar De Priest House, now a National Historic Landmark, which still held his locked political office. This had not been touched since about 1951. This great-grandson has been working to restore the office and house, and assessing the political archives—"a veritable treasure trove."
Legacy and honors
- The Oscar Stanton De Priest House in Chicago, at 45th and King Drive, has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and city landmark.
- Stokes-Hammond, Shelley. "Pathbreakers: Oscar Stanton DePriest and Jessie L. Williams DePriest". The White House Historical Association. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
- "Black Americans in Congress". United States: Office of History and Preservation, Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved 2009-12-11.
- Taylor, Julius F. (1922-05-13). "The Broad Ax" (34). Retrieved 17 June 2015.
- Elliott M. Rudwick, "Oscar De Priest and the Jim Crow Restaurant in the U. S. House of Representatives", The Journal of Negro Education Vol. 35, No. 1 (Winter, 1966), pp. 77-82, via JSTOR, accessed 21 March 2016
- Day, Davis S. (Winter 1980). "Herbert Hoover and Racial Politics: The De Priest Incident". Journal of Negro History. Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. 65 (1): 6–17. doi:10.2307/3031544. JSTOR 3031544.
- "'A Tempest In a Teapot' The Racial Politics of First Lady Lou Hoover's Invitation of Jessie De Priest to a White House Tea". The White House Historical Association. Archived from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
- "Cook County (IL) Clerk's Office Death Index (Jessie L. De Priest) [database on-line]". Chicago, Illinois: Cook County (IL) Clerk. Retrieved 2009-05-05.
- "Cook County (IL) Clerk's Office Death Index (Laurence W. De Priest) [database on-line]". Chicago, Illinois: Cook County (IL) Clerk. Retrieved 2009-05-05.
- "Social Security Death Index [database on-line]". United States: The Generations Network. Retrieved 2009-05-05.
- "Cook County (IL) Clerk's Office Death Index (Oscar S. De Priest) [database on-line]". Chicago, Illinois: Cook County (IL) Clerk. Retrieved 2009-05-05.
- "The DePriest Family Legacy", Video Interview, White House Historical Association
- Day, S. Davis. "Herbert Hoover and Racial Politics: The De Priest Incident". Journal of Negro History 65 (Winter 1980): 6-17
- Nordhaus-Bike, Anne. "Oscar DePriest lived Pisces's call to service, unity." Gazette, March 7, 2008.
- Olasky, Martin. "History turned right side up". WORLD magazine. 13 February 2010. p. 22.
- Rudwick, Elliott M. "Oscar De Priest and the Jim Crow Restaurant in the U.S. House of Representatives". Journal of Negro Education 35 (Winter 1966): 77-82.
- United States Congress. "Oscar Stanton De Priest (id: D000263)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- Search for National Historic Landmark: Oscar De Priest House, National Park Service
- “DE PRIEST, Oscar Stanton”, History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives
- Shelley Stokes-Hammond, Biographical sketch: "Pathbreakers: Oscar Stanton DePriest and Jessie L. Williams DePriest", The White House Historical Association
- "The DePriest Family Legacy", Video Interview/YouTube, White House Historical Association
|U.S. House of Representatives|
Martin B. Madden
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st congressional district
Arthur W. Mitchell