David Augustus Straker was an author, lawyer, and politician. He achieved success as a teacher and principal at St. Mary’s Public School.
Straker was born and raised in Bridgetown, Barbados 1868 he moved to Kentucky, where he taught at a freedman’s school for one year. He enrolled at Howard University in 1869 and graduated two years later with a law degree. Straker returned to Kentucky but when he was unable to find work as a lawyer, he took a position as a postal clerk.
During this time he married Annie M. Carey and authored numerous editorials for Frederick Douglass’ New National Era, gaining him national exposure. He later resigned his position at the post office to join a law firm in Charleston, South Carolina.
As a staunch Republican, Straker was first elected to public office in November 1876 as the Orangeburg County Representative in the state legislature. He continued to run for office and was reelected by the citizens of Orangeburg County in 1878 and 1880 even as the Democrats continued to deny him his seat in the legislature. In protest, Straker and law partner Robert Brown Elliot, a former South Carolina Congressman, led a black delegation to Washington, D.C. to meet with President James A. Garfield about the political discrimination and voting irregularities under South Carolina Democrats. Although Garfield was assassinated before he could respond to their protests, Straker earned a national reputation as a fearless civil rights leader.
Straker campaigned one last time after his defeat but due to growing racial animosity in the state, he relocated to Detroit in 1887. Once in Detroit, he opened up his own office and began lecturing on racial politics in the “New South.”
In 1890, he successfully argued a civil rights case, Ferguson v. Gies before the Michigan Supreme Court. The Ferguson decision outlawed separation by race in public places and was often later cited in subsequent cases challenging Jim Crow legislation. He was later elected as a judge in Wayne County, Michigan in 1893 and served as the founding president of the National Federation of Colored Men. David Augustus Straker died of pneumonia at the age of 66 on February 14, 1908.