Meet the first African-American to serve as governor of any U.S. state

December 11, 2019 at 01:30 pm | History, Success Story

Theodora Aidoo

Theodora Aidoo | Staff Writer

December 11, 2019 at 01:30 pm | History, Success Story

Governor P.B.S. Pinchback. Pic Credit: Library of Congress

Pinckney Benton Stewart (P. B.S.) Pinchback became the first African-American to serve as governor of any American state.

He was born May 10, 1837 in Macon, Georgia, U.S as a freeborn black and was a Union officer in the American Civil War and a leader in Louisiana politics during Reconstruction in 1865 through 1877, according to his biography.

Reconstruction in the United States, according to reports, lasted more than a decade from the start of emancipation at the midpoint of the Civil War until the withdrawal of federal troops from the conquered former Confederate States of America in 1877.

He was born to William Pinchback, a white Virginia plantation owner and a black slave mother, Eliza Stewart, who happened to be his former slave. Pinchback was raised on a large plantation in Holmes County, Mississippi until at age 9, his father sent him and his older brother, Napoleon, to Ohio to obtain formal education at Cincinnati’s Gilmore School.

Sadly, his education was halted as he had to return to Mississippi following the news of his father’s death. However, his mum took him and his siblings and fled to Ohio fearing that they might be enslaved by their White relatives.

Subsequently, his older brother, Napoleon reportedly became ill and the responsibility to cater for his mum and other siblings fell on 12-year-old Pinchback.

He got a job as a cabin boy on a canal boat and worked his way up to steward on the steamboats plying the Mississippi, Missouri, and Red rivers. He worked and sent money to Cincinnati to help support his mother and his siblings.

However, after the war between the states in 1861, Pinchback ran the Confederate blockade on the Mississippi River to reach River Federal-Held New Orleans where he raised a company of black volunteers called the Corps d’Afrique to fight for the North. 

In 1863, Pinchback resigned from service after racial discrimination over promotion a number of times and settled in Orleans with his family.  Pinchback organized the Fourth Ward Republican Club and served as a delegate to the convention that established a new constitution for Louisiana in 1868.

P. B. S. Pinchback
Pic Creditl Library Of Congress

That same year he was also elected to the state senate and was named its president pro tempore; and as a result he became lieutenant governor when the incumbent died in 1871.

From December 9, 1872, to January 13, 1873, he served as acting governor of Louisiana, making him the first person of African descent to serve as governor of any state.

Meanwhile, impeachment proceedings were in progress against Henry Clay Warmoth. In the process, Pinchback went into business and acquired control of a Republican paper, the New Orleans Louisianian.

Pinchback served as the 24th Governor of Louisiana from December 9, 1872, to January 13, 1873 and has been adjudged one of the most prominent African-American officeholders during the Reconstruction Era.

Worthy of note is the fact that Pinchback was elected to Congress in 1872, but his Democratic opponent contested the election and won the seat. The following year, he was elected to the U.S. Senate but again he was refused the seat due to charges of fraud and election irregularities.

Some think he was rejected on the basis of his skin colour. However, He was appointed as surveyor of customs in 1882 in New Orleans and that was his last political office.

As W.E.B. Du Bois stated in his 1935 study, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, Pinchback was the only black governor of any state during Reconstruction and remained the only one until Douglas Wilder’s election in Virginia in 1989.

Most viewed

Conversations

Must Read