John Frank Wheaton became the first black person elected to the Minnesota Legislature. Wheaton also served as an attorney.
Wheaton was born in Hagerstown, Maryland in 1866. His father, Jacob, was the first African American to vote in the state of Maryland after passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. Due to race relations in the area, Wheaton was required to attend the “colored” public elementary school. In order to complete the equivalent of high school, he attended Storer College, a historically black college in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, graduating in 1882.
Wheaton was born in Maryland, John Frank Wheaton became the first African-American elected to the Minnesota Legislature in 1898. A graduate of Howard University and the University of Minnesota Law School, Wheaton served a single year in office, representing Minneapolis’ Kenwood neighborhood and what’s known today as Eden Prairie, Edina and Excelsior.
Wheaton introduced the 1899 civil-rights statute that guaranteed people of all races access to saloons, which previously had been able to exclude customers based on race. Wheaton twice represented Minnesota at the Republican National Convention.
He abruptly changed course and opened a life insurance company in Chicago and then a law firm in New York City. Facing financial ruin after the disappearance of a client out on bond, Wheaton died by suicide in 1922; he was 55.