Oscar Stanton DePriest, – Activist


Oscar Stanton DePriest, born in Florence on March 9, 1871, was an American lawmaker and civil rights advocate who was the first Black Congressman of the 20th century. He moved to Chicago, where he became a successful businessman as a real estate broker, was a member of the board of commissioners of Cook County, Illinois, and served on the Chicago City Council from 1915-1917.

In 1928, De Priest became the first African American elected to Congress in the 20th century, representing the 1st Congressional District of Illinois as a Republican. During his three consecutive terms (1928-1935) as the only Black representative in Congress, De Priest introduced several anti-discrimination bills.

De Priest’s 1933 amendment barring discrimination in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Roosevelt. A third proposal, a bill to permit a transfer of jurisdiction if a defendant believed he or she could not get a fair trial because of race or religion, would be passed by another Congress in another era. Civil rights activists criticized De Priest for opposing federal aid to the needy, but they applauded him for speaking in the South despite death threats. They also praised him for telling an Alabama senator he was not big enough to prevent him from dining in the Senate restaurant and for defending the right of Howard University students to eat in the House restaurant. He was again elected to the Chicago city council in 1943 and served until 1947. De Priest died in Chicago, Illinois on May 12 1951.