June 13, 1868: Oscar J. Dunn is Elected as the First African-American Lieutenant Governor of a U.S. State, Louisiana

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BY WALTER OPINDE 

On this day, 13th June, 1868, Dunn James Oscar became the first elected African-American lieutenant governor of an American state, Louisiana, U.S. Oscar ran on the ticket headed by Henry Clay Warmoth, who was formerly from Illinois. After Dunn died in office, the then state Senator P. S. Pinchback, another black Republican, became lieutenant governor and thereafter governor for the 34-day interim period.

Oscar James Dunn was one of three African-Americans, each of whom served as a Republican Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana during the era of Reconstruction. Therefore, Dunn is best remembered as Louisiana’s first African-American Lieutenant Governor, serving from 1868 to 1871. Dunn was born in 1826, in New Orleans, to an unknown father and a Black mother who kept lodging rooms patronized by White actors and actresses. She later married a mulatto stage carpenter named Dunn; from who he adopted the name “Dunn” Oscar. As a young man, Oscar was a slave who fled the bondage and purchased his freedom. Before freedom, Dunn was self-educated (from reading letters) and learned the art of public speaking from actors who stayed at his mother’s lodging establishment. As a child, Oscar worked as an apprenticed plasterer and as a young adult he was a music teacher.

During the Civil War, Dunn fought in the Union Army for the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, rising from Private to Captain.  The Native Guards were one of the first all-black regiments to fight for the Union during the Civil War between 1861 and 1865.

At Post-Civil War, Oscar Dunn began his first venture by starting an agency in which freedmen, including the “good servants” and “field workmen,” were hired out to residents of New Orleans and surrounding parishes. Working with the relatively new freedmen gave Oscar an opportunity to be an advocate for land ownership for the blacks. He advocated for the education to all African-American children and equal protection laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. He became the secretary of the Advisory Committee of the Freedmen’s Saving and Trust Company of New Orleans. Following this major accomplishment, in 1866 Dunn structured the People’s Bakery, which was an enterprise owned and operated by the Louisiana Association of Workingmen.

After the enactment of Reconstruction Acts (1867), Dunn oversaw a committee in charge of amending the Article 5, which focused on the enrollment age of children attending public schools and placed responsibility for education on the Board of Aldermen. Although the resolution was laid on the table, his move to enact such a decree was realized in the Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868. This was the period when a similar law was enacted and become one of the most progressive actions taken in opening all schools to all races.

In 1868, Oscar J. Dunn became the candidate for lieutenant governor along with the well-known, octoroon Francis E. Dumas; the highest ranked non-white officer in the Union Army. Dunn was drafted into the race and placed on the ticket with gubernatorial candidate Henry C. Warmoth. Warmoth and Dunn won the election solely on the freshly enfranchised black voting block and the exclusion of former Confederates of the polls. After taking his oath on 30th June, 1868, Dunn led a movement to incorporate an additional oath for new legislators.He wanted the state senators to take a test oath to assert that they had not fought against the United States in any way.

President Ulysses S. Grant concluded the matter by necessitating the oath only in the Louisiana Constitution. It was to be used in the swearing in of the legislature. Dunn was not only honored for his duties as lieutenant governor, but also as president of the Metropolitan Police. In addition to those positions, Oscar Dunn was also a member of the Printing Committee and president of the Board of the Distribution of Pensions to Veterans.

Read more of the story via: www.knowlouisiana.org/entry/oscar-dunn-2

Sources

Smith-Brown, Claudette L. A Re-Examination of Selected Primary Source Documents Regarding Oscar James Dunn, Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, 1868–1871, Master’s Thesis, Baton Rouge: Southern University, 2007, p. 244.

 

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