Black History Month was started early here on POU, with some basic facts about black scientists and other inventors. This last week of black history month, I will end it with more random facts about Black innovation and Black firsts.
George Edwin Taylor
Born in the pre-Civil War South to a mother who was free and a father who was enslaved, George Edwin Taylor would become the first African American selected by a political party to be its candidate for the presidency of the United States.
Taylor was born on August 4, 1857 in Little Rock, Arkansas to Amanda Hines and Bryant (Nathan) Taylor. At the age of two, George Taylor moved with his mother from Arkansas to Illinois. When Amanda died a few years later, George fended for himself until arriving in Wisconsin by paddleboat in 1865. Raised in and near La Crosse by a politically active black family, he attended Wayland University in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin from 1877 to 1879, after which he returned to La Crosse where he went to work for the La Crosse Free Press and then the La Crosse Evening Star. During the years 1880 to 1885 he produced newspaper columns for local papers as well as articles for the Chicago Inter Ocean.
Taylor’s newspaper work brought him into politics—especially labor politics. He sided with one of the competing labor factions in La Crosse and helped re-elect the pro-labor mayor, Frank “White Beaver” Powell, in 1886. In the months that followed, Taylor became a leader and office holder in Wisconsin’s statewide Union Labor Party, and his own newspaper, the Wisconsin Labor Advocate, became one of the newspapers of the party.
In 1887 Taylor was a member of the Wisconsin delegation to the first national convention of the Union Labor Party, which met in Ohio in April, and refocused his newspaper on national political issues. As his prominence increased, his race became an issue, and Taylor responded to the criticism by increasingly writing about African American issues. Sometime in 1887 or 1888 his paper ceased publication.
In 1891 Taylor moved to Oskaloosa, Iowa where he continued his interest in politics, first in the Republican Party and then with the Democrats. While in Iowa Taylor owned and edited the Negro Solicitor, and became president of the National Colored Men’s Protective Association (an early civil rights organization) and the National Negro Democratic League, an organization of blacks within the Democratic Party. From 1900 to 1904 he aligned himself with the Populist faction that attempted to reform the Democratic Party.
Taylor and other independent-minded African Americans in 1904 jonied the first national political party created exclusively for and by blacks, the National Liberty Party (NLP). The Party met at its national convention in St. Louis in 1904 with delegates from thirty-six states. When the Party’s candidate for president ended up in an Illinois jail, the NLP Executive Committee approached Taylor, asking him to be the party’s candidate.
While Taylor’s campaign attracted little attention, the Party’s platform had a national agenda: universal suffrage regardless of race; federal protection of the rights of all citizens; federal anti-lynching laws; additional black regiments in the U.S. Army; federal pensions for all former slaves; government ownership and control of all public carriers to ensure equal accommodations for all citizens; and home rule for the District of Columbia.
Taylor’s presidential race was quixotic. In an interview published in The Sun (New York, November 20, 1904), he observed that while he knew whites thought his candidacy was a “joke,” he believed that an independent political party that could mobilize the African American vote was the only practical way that blacks could exercise political influence. On election day, Taylor received a scattering of votes.
The 1904 campaign was Taylor’s last foray into politics. He remained in Iowa until 1910 when he moved to Jacksonville. There he edited a succession of newspapers and was director of the African American branch of the local YMCA. He was married three times but had no children. George Edwin Taylor died in Jacksonville on December 23, 1925.
Lucy Terry Prince
The author of the first known work of African American literature (the poem “Bars Fight”), Lucy Terry Prince was kidnapped in Africa as an infant and sold into slavery in Rhode Island. At the age of five, she became the property of Captain Ebenezer Wells of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Around the age of sixteen Lucy Terry responded to a 1746 Indian ambush of two white families in a section of town known as “the Bars” , which was a colonial term for a meadow, by composing the ballad poem “Bars Fight,” which earned her local acclaim. The poem was preserved orally until it was finally published in 1855.
She remained enslaved until 1756, when Obijah Prince, a prosperous free black man, purchased her freedom and married her. In 1760 the Princes moved to Guilford, Vermont, where Lucy Terry Prince gained local renown as a storyteller and orator while educating her six children. Their names were Tatnai, Cesar, Drucilla, Durexa, Abijah, Jr and Festus. Cesar fought in the Revolutionary War.
A courageous, eloquent activist, Prince worked hard not only to survive economically but also to protect her family from racist harassment and vandalism.
In 1785, when a neighboring white family threatened the Princes, they appealed to the governor and his Council for protection. The Council ordered Guilford’s selectmen to defend them. A persuasive orator, Terry successfully negotiated a land case before the Supreme Court of Vermont in the 1790s. She argued against two of the leading lawyers in the state, (one of who later became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Vermont) and won her case against the false land claims of Colonel Eli Bronson. Samuel Chase, the presiding justice of the Court, said that her argument was better than he’d heard from any Vermont lawyer.
She also delivered a three-hour address to the board of trustees of Williams College in order to gain admittance for her son Festus. While she was not successful, her speech was remembered for its eloquence and skill.
Widowed in 1794, Lucy Terry Prince moved to Sunderland, Vermont, where she died in 1821. Lemuel Haynes preached an antislavery sermon at her funeral in which he predicted that despots and racists, “tyrants and oppressors,” would “sink beneath” Terry’s “feet,” a witty reference to her poetry.
***Information courtesy of about.org and blackpast.org***