pinckney benton stew-art pinchback

P. B. S. Pinchback

Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback (May 10 1837 December 21 1921) was the first African American to become Governor of a U.S. state. He was also the first non-white Governor of Louisiana. Pinchback, a Republican, served as the Governor of Louisiana for thirty-five 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.

Early life

Pinchback was born in Macon, Georgia (Bibb County), to a white planter (William Pinchback) and his former slave, Eliza Stewart. Known as "Pinckney Benton Stewart," he was educated at Gilmore High School in Cincinnati. After his father died in 1848, he left Cincinnati because he feared that his paternal relatives might try to force him into slavery. He worked as a hotel porter and barber in Terre Haute, Indiana.

In 1860, while in Indiana, Pinchback married Nina Emily. They had two daughters and four sons.

Political career

In 1863, during the Civil War, Pinchback traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, and recruited African-American volunteers for the Union Army. He became captain of Company A, 1st Louisiana Native Guards (later reformed as the 73th U. S. Colored Infantry Regiment). He resigned his commission due to racial prejudice against black officers.

After 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 Louisiana state senator, where he became the state senate's president pro tempore. 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, was impeached and convicted, which removed him from office. Pinchback, as lieutenant governor, succeeded as governor on December 9.

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. 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.

Later life

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. Both elections were contested, and his Democratic opponents were seated instead.

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. He was a member of Southern University's Board of Trustees.

In 1882, Republican President Chester Alan Arthur appointed Pinchback as Surveyor of Customs in New Orleans. In 1885, he studied law at Straight University in New Orleans. He was admitted to the bar in 1886. Later he 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 was interred in Metairie Cemetery near New Orleans. His service as governor helped him to be interred there although the cemetery was segregated and reserved for whites.


Pinchback 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 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.

In 2007, Republican Bobby Jindal, who is American-born of South Asian descent, was elected governor of Louisiana for a term that began in January 2008. He is the second non-white to serve as governor of Louisiana.

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