Barack Obama broke the glass ceiling for African Americans in 2008 when he won the presidential elections. Now, African Americans are not hesitant to seek the nomination to represent the Democratic and Republican Parties as presidential candidates. For the 2020 presidential election, African American Senators Kamala Harris, who is of Caribbean Heritage, and Corey Booker, have already announced their candidacy.
However, long before Obama made his historical bid for the presidency, as early as 1848, several African Americans sought the presidency. Most of these candidates were from small, lesser known political parties, but each carved a space in America’s black history.
During Black History Month, the Caribbean National Weekly will publish a four-part series featuring African American candidates who sought the highest office in the land.
Today we feature candidates who ran between 1848 and 1980. In our February 14th issue we will feature African American candidates who ran between 1981 and 2000. On February 21st, we will highlight candidates who ran between 2001 and 2008, and on February 28th, candidates who ran from 2009 to 2019.
African American Candidates: 1848-1980
Frederick Douglass – Douglass was born in 1818 and passed away in 1895. A former slave and great social reformer, Douglass was a presidential candidate twice, in 1848 and again in 1888.
Douglass was a highly regarded abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, gaining note for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings. In his time, he was described by abolitionists as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.
He made his first presidential bid in 1848 as a candidate for the Liberty party, gaining just one vote at the party’s national convention. He made another bid in 1872 for vice president representing the Equal Rights Party, and in 1888 as a presidential candidate for the Republican Party.
George Edwin Taylor – Born in 1857, Taylor was the son of slaves born in Little Rock, Arkansas and passed away in 1925. In 1904, he was the presidential candidate of the National Negro Liberty Party.
In the 1890s, Taylor, publisher of a weekly newspaper called Negro Solicitor, transitioned from Independent Republican to Democrat. In 1892, he was founder and president of the National Colored Men’s Protection League and in 1900 was president of the National Negro Democratic League, which was the Negro Bureau within the National Democratic Party. In 1904, Taylor joined the National Negro Liberty Party as its candidate for president of the United States. He reconnected with the Democratic Party after the failure of his 1904 election campaign.
Clennon Washington King, Jr. – King, who was born in 1920 and died in 2000, was a civil rights activist, and is often referred to as the first African American to run for president. He was nicknamed “The Black Don Quixote.”
His first bid for president coincided with the year John F Kennedy was nominated as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.
King ran for president as candidate of the Independent Afro-American Party with Reginald Carter as his running mate. In the presidential elections he won 1,485 votes in Alabama, making him, by some accounts, the first African American presidential candidate. King placed eleventh of twelve candidates seeking to be elected.
Clifton DeBerry – Born in 1924 and died in 2006, DeBerry was an American communist and two-time candidate for president for the Socialist Workers Party.
DeBerry marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama and Memphis, Tennessee, and was a supporter of Malcolm X in the 1960s. He was a delegate to the founding conventions of the Negro Labor Congress and the Negro American Labor Council.
In the 1964 election, he was the Socialist Workers Party’s first African American candidate, as well as the first African American candidate for president of any existing party. King who preceded him in 1960 was a marginal candidate, receiving 32,706 votes in the elections.
DeBerry ran again in United States presidential election in 1980 as one of three candidates the party had that year, receiving 38,738 votes.
Leroy Eldridge Cleaver – Cleaver was born in 1935 and died in 1998. He was a writer and political activist who became an early leader of the radical Black Panther Party.
In 1968, Cleaver wrote Soul on Ice, a collection of essays that, at the time of its publication, was praised by The New York Times Book Review as “brilliant and revealing”. Cleaver stated in Soul on Ice: “If a man like Malcolm X could change and repudiate racism, if I myself and other former Muslims can change, if young whites can change, then there is hope for America.”
1968 was a time of turmoil in the United States. In April of that year, civil rights leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Democratic candidate Robert Kennedy were assassinated. The Black Power movement, demanding more power and respect for African Americans, was growing, as were civilian protests over the Vietnam War. In the presidential elections held that year Republican Richard Nixon was elected. The year was also a pivotal one for African Americans to seek the office of US president.
Besides Eldridge, African Americans Dick Gregory and Charlene Mitchell, and Channing E. Phillips sought the office for their respective political parties.
Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory – Gregory was born in 1932 and passed away in 2017. He was an American comedian, civil rights activist, social critic, writer, conspiracy theorist, entrepreneur,[and actor. During the turbulent 1960s, Gregory became a pioneer in stand-up comedy for his “no-holds-barred” sets, in which he mocked bigotry and racism. He performed primarily to black audiences at segregated clubs until 1961, when he became the first black comedian to successfully cross over to white audiences, appearing on television and releasing comedy record albums
Gregory was at the forefront of political activism in the 1960s, protesting the Vietnam War and racial injustice. He was arrested multiple times, went on many hunger strikes, and towards the end of his life was a public speaker and author, primarily promoting spirituality and healthy dieting.
In 1968, Gregory represented the Freedom and Peace party in the presidential elections as a write-in candidate, and received 47,097 votes.
Charlene Alexander Mitchell – Mitchell was born in 1930, and is alive today. She is an international socialist, feminist, and labor and civil rights activist.
Formerly a member of the Communist Party USA, which she joined at 16, Mitchell emerging as one of the most influential leaders in the party from the late 1950s to the 1980s.
Representing the Communist Party in the 1968 presidential election, Mitchell was the first African American woman to run, although entered on the ballot in only two states. Her ticket only received 1,076 votes.
Channing Emery Phillips – Born in 1928, and passed away in November 1987, Phillips was an American minister, civil rights leader and social activist, who made history as the first African American placed in nomination by a major political party – the Democratic Party.
He led the delegation from the District of Columbia to the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Members of the District’s delegation were originally pledged to Robert F. Kennedy, but following his death, they voted to nominate Reverend Phillips as a favorite son instead. He received 68 votes.
Phillips was the first African American to receive votes for the presidential nomination at a Democratic National Convention.
Shirley Anita Chisholm – Chisolm was born in 1924 to Caribbean ancestry, and died in 2005. She was a politician, educator, and author.
In 1968, she became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress, and represented New York’s 12th congressional district for seven terms, from 1969 to 1983.
In 1972, she became the first black female candidate for a major party’s nomination for president, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party‘s presidential nomination. Her quest to get the nomination failed as she received just 152 votes at the Democratic Party National Convention.
Walter Edward Fauntroy – Fauntroy was born in 1933 and still alive today. He was the former pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Washington DC, and a civil rights activist. He sought to be nominated as the Democratic Party presidential candidate in 1972, and again in 1976.
During the 1972 primaries, Fauntroy campaigned in the D.C. primary as a favorite son candidate, and won the largely uncontested event with 21,217 votes.
In the 1976 Democratic primaries, he lost to eventual nominee Jimmy Carter. Though he placed second overall according to some measurements, he received zero delegates at the Democratic convention.
Barbara Charline Jordan – Jordan was born in 1936, and died in 1996. She sought the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1976, the year Jimmy Carter was elected president. She was an attorney, educator and politician who was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Jordan was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, and the first southern African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives.
She was known for her eloquent opening statement at the House Judiciary Committee hearings during the impeachment process of Richard Nixon, and as the first African American and first woman to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous other honors.
Her nomination bid also failed at the Democratic Party Convention in 1976.
Margaret Wright – Born in 1923, Wright also made a presidential run in in 1976.
Wright was a community activist in Los Angeles, California who represented a third-party, the People’s Party, in the elections. The ticket was endorsed by the Peace and Freedom Party. Bumper stickers advertised her as a “Socialist for President”. Her ticket received 49,016 votes. Wright was also a founder and activist of Women against Racism in the Watts section of Los Angeles.
Andrew Pulley – Pulley was born in 1951, and is a former politician who ran as Socialist Workers Party candidate for vice president in 1972, and for president in 1980.
Prior to that he also ran for Mayor of Chicago, Illinois in 1979. In the 1980 presidential elections won by Republican Ronald Reagan, Pulley gained 40,104 votes.