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Oscar Stanton De Priest

Oscar Stanton De PriestOscar Stanton De Priest was born March 9, 1871, in Florence, Alabama to former slaves Alexander and Mary De Priest. In 1878 the De Priest family moved to Kansas, along with thousands of other African Americans from the Mississippi Valley. De Priest went to school in Salina and eventually studied bookkeeping at the Salina Normal School. In 1889 De Priest moved to Chicago, Illinois where he worked as a house painter and decorator until he could establish his own business. De Priest married Jessie Williams and together they had one child.

De Priest began his political career on Chicago’s Cook County board of commissioners where he served from 1904 to 1908. De Priest served on the city council from 1915 to 1917 but resigned after being indicted for accepting money from a gambling establishment. Although he was later acquitted of charges, De Priest was not elected for another term on the city council until 1943.

In 1928 De Priest secured the Republican nomination after the sudden death of the original nominee. De Priest narrowly beat out his competitors and was the first African American representative in the 20th century. His election ended a 28-year absence of African Americans in Congress. He served in Congress from 1929 to 1935. As the only African American in Congress at the time, De Priest pressed for many anti-discriminatory bills. His opposition to Roosevelt’s Depression Bills is what ultimately lost him the election in 1934.

In 1943, De Priest was elected to the Chicago city council again and remained involved in politics until he died May 12, 1951 in Chicago, Illinois. De Priest’s house in Cook County, Illinois is a National Historic Landmark.

Entry: De Priest, Oscar Stanton

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2012

Date Modified: January 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.