P.B.S. Pinchback, First Governor   Leave a comment

P.B.S. Pinchback, Elected Senator, they took it away from him

Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback (May 10, 1837 – December 21, 1921) was the first non-white and first person of African American descent to become governor of a U.S. state. A Republican, he served as the 24th Governor of Louisiana for 35 days, from December 9, 1872, to January 13, 1873.

Nicholas Lemann, in Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, described Pinchback as “an outsized figure: newspaper publisher, gambler, orator, speculator, dandy, mountebank – served for a few months as the state’s Governor and claimed seats in both houses of Congress following disputed elections but could not persuade the members of either to seat him.”[1]

Early lifePinchback was born in May 1837 in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, to Eliza Stewart, a former slave, and William Pinchback, her former master, who were living together as husband and wife. The family had diverse ethnic origins; William Pinchback was of mixed Scots-Irish, Welsh and German descent, while Eliza Stewart had African, Cherokee, Welsh and German ancestry.[2] Shortly after Pinchback’s birth, his father William Pinchback had purchased a much larger plantation in Mississippi.

Pinchback was brought up in relatively affluent surroundings. He was raised as white and his parents sent him north to Cincinnati, Ohio, to attend school. In 1848, however, Pinchback’s father died. William Pinchback’s relatives disinherited his mulatto wife and children and claimed his property in Mississippi. Fearful that the northern Pinchbacks might also try to claim her five children as slaves, Pinchback’s mother fled with them to Cincinnati. Pinckney left school and traveled on river and canal boats. For awhile he resided in Terre Haute, Indiana, working as a hotel porter. During that time he was known as Pinckney B. Stewart. He had not yet adopted the surname Pinchback.

In 1860 Pinchback married Nina Hawthorne of Memphis, Tennessee. The Civil War began the following year, and Pinchback decided to fight on the side of the Union. In 1862 he furtively made his way into New Orleans, which had just been captured by the Union Army. He raised several companies for the Union’s all black 1st Louisiana Native Guards Regiment. Commissioned a captain, he was one of the Union Army’s few commissioned officers of African American ancestry. He became Company Commander of Company A, 2nd Louisiana Regiment Native Guard Infantry (later reformed as the 74th US Colored Infantry Regiment).[3] Passed over twice for promotion and tired of the prejudice he encountered from white officers, Pinchback resigned his commission in 1863.

At the war’s end, he and his wife moved to Alabama, to test their freedom as full citizens. Racial tensions there during Reconstruction were reaching shocking levels of violence, however,[4] he brought his family back to New Orleans.

Political careerAfter the war, Pinchback returned to New Orleans and became active in the Republican Party, participating in Reconstruction state conventions. In 1868, he organized the Fourth Ward Republican Club in New Orleans. That same year, he was elected as a State Senator, where he became senate president pro tempore of a Legislature that included 42 representatives of African American descent (half of the chamber, and seven of 36 seats in the Senate). In 1871 he became acting lieutenant governor upon the death of Oscar Dunn, the first elected African-American lieutenant governor of a U.S. state.

In 1872, the incumbent Republican governor, Henry Clay Warmoth, suffered impeachment charges near the end of his term. State law required that Warmoth step aside until convicted or cleared of the charges. Pinchback, as lieutenant governor, succeeded as governor on December 9 and served for 35 days until the end of Warmoth’s term. Warmoth was not convicted and the charges were eventually dropped.

Pinchback became the recipient of vicious hate mail from across the country as well as more local threats on his own life.[citation needed]

Also in 1872, at a national convention of African-American politicians, Pinchback had a public disagreement with Jeremiah Haralson of Alabama. James T. Rapier (also of Alabama) submitted a motion that the convention condemn all Republicans who had opposed President Grant in that year’s election.[5] Haralson supported the motion, but Pinchback opposed it because it would include Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, a lifelong anti-slavery fighter whom Pinchback believed African-Americans should laud.[citation needed]

Later life This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (December 2011)

After his brief governorship, Pinchback remained active in politics and public service. In the elections of 1874 and 1876, Pinchback was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and then the U.S. Senate respectively, another pioneering accomplishment as the state’s first African American representative to Washington. Both election results were contested, and his Democratic opponents were seated instead. It was the beginning of a reversal of the political gains African Americans had achieved since the war’s end.

Pinchback served on the Louisiana State Board of Education and was instrumental in establishing Southern University, a historically black college, in New Orleans in 1880. It relocated to Baton Rouge in 1914.[6] He was a member of Southern University’s Board of Trustees (later redesignated the Board of Supervisors).

In 1882, Republican President Chester A. Arthur appointed Pinchback as Surveyor of Customs in New Orleans. In 1885, he studied law at Straight University, which later became Dillard University, in New Orleans. He was admitted to the Louisiana bar in 1886. He was part of the Comité des Citoyens (Citizens’ Committee) which in 1892 staged the New Orleans civil-rights actions of Homer Plessy which led to the U.S. Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson (legalizing racial segregation). Later Pinchback moved to New York City and worked as a Marshal. Finally he moved to Washington, D.C., where he practiced law.

Pinchback died in Washington in 1921 and is interred in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans. His service as governor helped him to be interred there although the cemetery was segregated and reserved for whites.

 LegacyPinchback is the maternal grandfather of Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer.

It was not until 1990 that another African American became governor of any U.S. state. In 1990, Douglas Wilder of Virginia became the second African-American state governor (and the first to be elected to office). Deval Patrick of Massachusetts was elected governor and took office in January 2007. David Paterson of New York became the fourth African-American governor on March 17, 2008 when he succeeded to office following the resignation of Eliot Spitzer. Wilder, Patrick and Paterson are all Democrats.


Posted February 15, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Politicians

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