Happy birthday, George Edwin Taylor. The first Black presidential candidate | Michael Coard

In addition to being a political activist and politician, Taylor was a journalist and editor.

In 1904, George Edwin Taylor became the first Black candidate for U.S. president, running as a member of the National Negro Liberty Party (NNLP). (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

By Michael Coard

This is volume four of my monthly column entitled Black Dollars Matter.

This column is designed to compel white businesses/entities in Philadelphia and white employers in Philadelphia to treat Black consumers and Black applicants/employees with respect. But, more important, it is also designed to convince Black people in Philadelphia to “do for self” economically as well as politically because, in a capitalist democracy, money and politics talk — meaning persuade — and BS walks — meaning leaves empty-handed.

George Edwin Taylor understood that, which is why, on Wednesday, I’ll be shouting “Happy 164th birthday” to him.

Taylor was born Aug. 4, 1857, which was eight years before slavery kinda/sorta ended. In 1904, at age 47, he became, as Bruce Mouser wrote in “For Labor, Race, and Liberty: George Edwin Taylor,” the first Black candidate for U.S. president. And he did so proudly as a member of the National Negro Liberty Party (NNLP).

In fact, he ran for president 68 years before the great New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm threw her stylish hat in the presidential ring in 1972.

In addition to being a political activist and politician, Taylor was a journalist and editor. And as documented by Linton Weeks at WHYY, Taylor was fearlessly outspoken in his condemnation of racist disenfranchisement. That explains why he joined the fearless and outspoken NNLP, which, in the year he ran for U.S. president, held a national convention in St. Louis with representatives from 36 states.

The NNLP was pro-Black and woke before anybody even used those terms, which explains why, as early as 1904 (and before), it included reparations as a major plank in its political platform along with universal suffrage, self-government in the District of Columbia, career opportunities in the military, public ownership of railroads to guarantee equal accommodations, and anti-lynching legislation.

Founded in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1897, the NNLP was originally called the Ex-Slave Petitioners’ Assembly. As noted by James Davidson in “Encountering the Ex-Slave Reparation Movement from the Grave: The National Industrial Council and National Liberty Party,” published in the Journal of African American History, the NNLP aggressively petitioned for pensions for formerly enslaved persons. The assembly reorganized in 1900 as the National Industrial Council and in 1903 added anti-lynching, voter disenfranchisement and Jim Crow to its political and economic platform.

Taylor was born free in Little Rock to Bryant Taylor, an enslaved father, and raised by his free mother, Amanda Hines, in Alton, Illinois. Sadly, she passed away when he was just 8 years old. He then lived with a politically active Black foster family in Wisconsin and later attended Wayland University.

His first job was as a reporter at the La Crosse Evening Star. During that time, he developed a keen interest in labor activism and politics, so much so that he joined the Wisconsin People’s Party and the Union Labor Party. Not long afterward, he founded and wrote for the Wisconsin Labor Advocate.

At age 34, he moved to Iowa where he published a national weekly magazine called the Negro Solicitor. This began leading him to national prominence, culminating in him founding and being elected president of the National Colored Men’s Protective Association in 1892 and also being elected president of the National Negro Democratic League eight years later.

Although he clearly knew his 1904 presidential campaign faced nearly impossible odds, he told a reporter from the New York Sun, in an interview published Nov. 20, 1904, that he believed that an independent pro-Black political party that could mobilize the Black vote was the only practical way that Blacks could flex their political muscle.

Unfortunately, in that election he received less than than 2,000 votes, as noted by Trinity Christian College history professor David Broadnax. But that was no big surprise considering several factors, not the least of which is that he received no newspaper endorsement and had to contend with unfair ballot obstacles in many states. In fact, William Scott, the NNLP’s initial choice to run for president, contended that Taylor actually received about 65,000 votes that, due to those obstacles, were not recorded.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Taylor received less than 2,000 votes, Broadnax explains it was because more popular Blacks, such as Frederick Douglass, Blanche Bruce, T. Thomas Fortune and others, strategically concluded that no one — Black, white or otherwise — could ever win the presidency as a third-party candidate. Accordingly, those bigger names aligned themselves with the “lesser of the evils” between the two major parties, one of which always won. As Broadnax noted, Taylor was the first Black person “to run for president because he was the first Black politician who no longer cared about what either major party thought of him and [because he] was able to find allies among progressive whites who took the incredibly bold step of nominating him.”

I applaud Taylor for his “don’t give a damn” confrontational approach in addressing racism in politics, in economics and in America generally. That is exactly why, as part of this Black Dollars Matter column, I recently wrote to all of the city’s largest employers and/or the employers with the city’s largest Black consumer base and/or the employers situated in largely Black neighborhoods in the city and/or employers profiting largely from Black municipal taxpayer dollars in the city. And I should mention that, as an attorney, I decided to include the city’s largest law firms primarily because many (but certainly not all) of Philly’s law firms have abysmal hiring rates for Black associates and abysmal promotion rates for Black partners.

I asked each of those employers and businesses/entities about their racial policies and practices.

The local employers and businesses/entities that I recently wrote to include Acme Markets; Aramark; Bayada Home Healthcare; CVS; the City of Philadelphia; Comcast Corporation/Comcast Spectacor; Cozen O’Connor; Crown Holdings; Drexel University; Einstein Healthcare Network; Jefferson Health System; Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C.; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP; Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council; SEPTA; Temple University; the University of Pennsylvania/University of Pennsylvania Healthcare; United Parcel Service; Urban Outfitters; and Vanguard Group.

Some of them responded. Some of them completely ignored me and in turn completely ignored The Philadelphia Tribune, which is the oldest continuously published Black-owned newspaper in the country. In other words, some of them completely ignored Black Philadelphia, so I guess that means they don’t believe that Black Dollars Matter. Well, as my grandmother used to say, “They gone learn today.” Actually, they’re going to learn within the next month when I publish the employer and business/entity names, mailing addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, the non-responses, the half-hearted responses, and the impressive responses. Stay turned because possible boycotts might follow. Correction — actual boycotts will definitely follow.

Although Taylor passed away on Dec. 23, 1925, at age 68, he left a powerful legacy for every Black candidate for every local, state and federal office since 1904 and for every self-respecting Black person who demands political and economic respect.

By the way, just as ancestor Taylor tells me to write an endorsement list here in the Tribune prior to every primary and general election, he also told me to write to those local employers and businesses/entities. And he added this: Reward your friends and punish your enemies. He also whispered something about boycotts.

Like I said, stay tuned.

Michael Coard is a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this column first appeared. 

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.