William H. Grey: Politician and African American Leader in Arkansas

1 Posted by - January 27, 2024 - History, LATEST POSTS

William H. Grey was a politician and leader of the African American community in the state of Arkansas. Grey was born December 22, 1829, in Washington, D.C. He was the son of free parents. He arrived in Arkansas from Missouri in 1863 and settled in Helena (Phillips County), Arkansas.

Grey established himself as a business man and planter, and quickly became active and influential in Republican state politics. Although he had a limited amount of formal education, Grey learned parliamentary procedure some time before 1856 while he accompanied his employer, Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise, to sessions of Congress.

In 1868, the first year that the bulk of the African- American population could vote in Arkansas, Grey was among the eight African-American members elected to the second post-Civil War Constitutional Convention. He was considered the most “articulate” of the eight. He spoke on the convention floor more than 25 times, primarily on matters relating to African-American welfare. He and other African-American representatives voted as a block for continuation of the Freedmen’s Bureau and against a minority report that would have restricted the right to vote to white males.

A new state Constitution was passed on March 14, 1868, with the vote of all eight African-Americans and 52 other delegates. It guaranteed African-Americans the right to vote and to hold public office, and provided for free public, but segregated, schools.

In 1870, he was appointed clerk of the First Circuit Court and ex-Officio Recorder of Deeds. As a delegate to the Republican national convention in 1872, he became the first African American to address a national presidential nominating convention, seconding the nomination of President Ulysses S. Grant. From 1872 to 1874, he served as Commissioner of Immigration and State Lands. Grey died on November 8, 1888.





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