|Pinckney B. S. Pinchback|
|24th Governor of Louisiana|
December 9, 1872 - January 13, 1873
|Henry C. Warmoth|
|12th Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana|
December 6, 1871 - December 9, 1872
|Governor||Henry C. Warmoth|
|Born||Pinckney Benton Stewart
May 10, 1837
Macon, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||December 21, 1921
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Education||Straight University (LLB)|
Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback (born Pinckney Benton Stewart May 10, 1837 - December 21, 1921) was an American publisher and politician, a Union Army officer, and the first African American to become governor of a U.S. state. A Republican, Pinchback served as the 24th Governor of Louisiana from December 9, 1872, to January 13, 1873. He was one of the most prominent African-American officeholders during the Reconstruction Era.
Pinchback was born free in Macon, Georgia to a mulatto woman and a white planter. His father, William Pinchback, raised the younger Pinchback as his own son on his plantation in Mississippi. After the death of his father in 1848, Pinchback and his mother fled to the free state of Ohio. After the start of the American Civil War, Pinchback traveled to Union-occupied New Orleans and raised several companies for the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, becoming one of few African American commissioned officers in the Union Army.
Pinchback remained in New Orleans after the Civil War, becoming active in Republican politics. He won election to the Louisiana State Senate in 1868 and became the president pro tempore of the state senate. He became the acting Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana upon the death of Oscar Dunn in 1871 and briefly served as Governor of Louisiana after Henry C. Warmoth was suspended from office. African Americans were increasingly disenfranchised after the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and Pinchback would be the only African American to serve as governor of a U.S. state until 1990. After the contested 1872 Louisiana gubernatorial election, Republican legislators elected Pinchback to the United States Senate. Due to the controversy over the 1872 elections, Pinchback was never seated in Congress.
Pinchback served as a delegate to the 1879 Louisiana constitutional convention, where he helped gain support for the founding of Southern University. He served as the surveyor of customs of New Orleans from 1882 to 1885 and later helped challenge the segregation of Louisiana's public transportation system, leading to the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1892 and died in that city in 1921.
He was born free as Pinckney Benton Stewart in May 1837 in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia. His parents were Eliza Stewart, a freed slave, and Major William Pinchback, a white planter and his mother's former master. William Pinchback, who also had a legal white family, freed Eliza and her children in 1836; she had borne six by that point and two had survived. She had four more with him.
Pinckney Stewart's parents were of diverse ethnic origins; Eliza Stewart was classified as mulatto, and had African, Cherokee, Welsh, and German ancestry. William Pinchback was ethnic European-American, of Scots-Irish, Welsh, and German American ancestry. Their mixed-race children were thus of majority European-American ancestry. Shortly after Pinckney's birth, his father William purchased a much larger plantation in Mississippi, and he moved there with both his white and mixed-race families.
Pinckney Benton Stewart and his siblings were considered the "natural" (or illegitimate) children of their father, but they were brought up in relatively affluent surroundings and treated as his own. The children were raised as white children. In 1846, Pinchback sent Pinckney and his older brother Napoleon north to a private academy in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1848, when Pinckney was eleven, his father died.
Fearful that the Pinchbacks might try to claim her children as slaves, Eliza Stewart fled with the children to Cincinnati in the free state of Ohio. Napoleon, at 18, helped to keep the family together but broke down under the responsibility. At 12, Pinckney left school and began to work as a cabin boy on river and canal boats to help his family. For a while he lived in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he worked as a hotel porter. During that time, he still identified himself as Pinckney B. Stewart. He did not take his father's surname of Pinchback until after the end of the American Civil War.
In 1860 at the age of 23, Stewart married Emily Hawthorne, a free woman of color. Like Stewart, she was "practically white" in appearance. They had four children: Pinckney Napoleon in 1862, Bismarck in 1864, Nina in 1866, and Walter Alexander in 1868. Two others had died young. Bismarck's name reflected his father's admiration for statesman Otto von Bismarck of Germany, whom he considered to be one of the world's greatest men. His mother Eliza Stewart lived with Pinchback and his family from 1867 to her death in 1884.
They had a fine house in New Orleans. Usually, in the summer, the whole family traveled to Saratoga Springs, New York, a resort town, where they would stay for several weeks. Pinchback liked to gamble on the horse racing during the summer season.
The Civil War began the following year, and Stewart decided to fight on the side of the Union. In 1862, he quietly made his way to New Orleans, which had just been captured by the Union Army. He raised several companies for the Union's all-black 1st Louisiana Native Guards Regiment, which was garrisoned in the city. A minority of men were Louisiana free men of color, part of the educated class before the war who had participated in the state militia, but most of the Guards were slaves who had escaped to join the Union forces and gain freedom.
Commissioned a captain, Stewart was one of the Union Army's few commissioned officers of African-American ancestry. Like Stewart, the officers were mostly of mixed race. Most of them were drawn from free people of color in New Orleans before the war; unlike him, they were usually of colonial French and African descent. He became Company Commander of Company A, 2nd Louisiana Regiment Native Guard Infantry, made up mostly of escaped slaves. (It was later reformed as the 74th US Colored Infantry Regiment, of the United States Colored Troops.)
Passed over twice for promotion and tired of the prejudice he encountered from white officers, Stewart resigned his commission in 1863. In a letter of April 30, 1863, his sister Adeline B. Saffold wrote to him from Sidney, Ohio, urging him to follow her example:
If I were you, Pink, I would not let my ambition die. I would seek to rise and not in that class either but I would take my position in the world as a white man as you are and let the other go for be assured of this as the other you will never get your rights....
After the war, Stewart and his wife moved to Alabama, to test their freedom as full citizens. Racial tensions during Reconstruction resulted in shocking levels of violence as whites tried to re-establish social dominance and suppress voting by blacks. Stewart returned with his family to New Orleans.
After the war in New Orleans, Stewart took his father's surname of Pinchback. He became active in the Republican Party. The exact moment Pinchback decided to enter politics is described by George Devol on page 216 of his book "Forty years a gambler on the Mississippi." In 1867, Pinchback organized the Fourth Ward Republican Club in New Orleans soon after Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts. That year, he was elected to the constitutional convention.
In 1868 Pinchback was elected as a State Senator. He became senate president pro tempore of a legislature that included 42 representatives of African-American descent (half of the House, and seven of 36 seats in the Senate). (At the time, the population of African Americans and whites in the state was nearly equal.)
As Senate president pro tempore, in 1871 Pinchback succeeded to the position as acting lieutenant governor upon the death of Oscar Dunn, the first elected African-American lieutenant governor of a US state.
Pinchback also contributed to the political discussion after acquiring the biweekly newspaper, the New Orleans Louisianian. He published the paper until 1879. He was appointed as director of the New Orleans public schools, established by the state legislature for the first time during Reconstruction. Pinchback had a long-standing interest in education of blacks and was appointed to the Louisiana State Board of Education where he served from March 18, 1871 until March, 1877.
In 1872, the legislature filed impeachment charges against the incumbent Republican governor, Henry Clay Warmoth, over disputes over certifying returns of the disputed gubernatorial election, in which both Democrat John McEnery and Republican William Kellogg claimed victory. Trying to support a centrist fusion government at a time of divisions among Republicans, Warmoth had supported his appointed return board, which certified McEnery as winner. Republicans opposed this outcome and appointed their own returns board, which certified Kellogg. The election had been marked by violence and fraud. State law required Warmoth to step aside until his impeachment case was tried. Pinchback took the oath as acting governor on December 9, 1872, and he served for about six weeks, until the end of Warmoth's term. Warmoth was not convicted, and the charges were eventually dropped by the legislature.
Also in 1872, at a national convention of African-American politicians, Pinchback had a public disagreement with Jeremiah Haralson of Alabama. James T. Rapier, also of Alabama, submitted a motion that the convention condemn all Republicans who had opposed President Ulysses S. Grant in that year's election. Haralson supported the motion, but Pinchback opposed it because Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts would have been condemned for opposing Grant. Pinchback admired Sumner as a lifelong anti-slavery fighter.
After his brief governorship, Pinchback remained active in politics and public service in Louisiana. From 1868, campaigns and elections in Louisiana were increasingly marked by Democratic violence. Historian George C. Rable described the White League, started in 1874, as the "military arm of the Democratic Party." The paramilitary group used intimidation and violence to suppress black voting and run Republicans out of office.
As an outcome of the controversial 1872 election, four US seats from Louisiana were also contested, including Pinchback's seat in the at-large position. He was the first African American elected to Congress from Louisiana. In early 1873, both the Republican William Kellogg-allied state legislators, who had a slight majority, and the Democrat John McEnery-allied legislators elected US Senators. Pinchback was elected by the Republicans and presented the Senate with his credentials. The Democratic candidate also presented credentials. As the 1872 gubernatorial contest had involved the national government, Congress was initially reluctant to assess these issues. The contested claim was not settled for years, when Democrats controlled Congress.
Holding out for the Senate seat, Pinchback conceded the House seat to his Democratic opponent, but the 45th Congress (1877-1879), which finally decided the issue, had a Democratic majority and voted against Pinchback. The Senate gave him compensation of $16,000 for his salary and mileage after his protracted struggle to take his seat.
In his memoir of Reconstruction, former Louisiana governor Henry Clay Warmoth wrote that the federal government was reluctant to seat people representing the Kellogg-Pinchback faction. He had a personal interest, as he had been forced out of Louisiana after allying with white conservatives in the 1872 election certification. Historian John C. Rodrigue notes that the Committee on Elections was dealing with its own internal issues. It had accepted Pinchback's claim to the House seat, but he was holding out for the Senate seat, and then complications arose after the Democrats controlled Congress and upheld election of his opponent.
Overall, the mid- to late 1870s marked an acceleration of the reversal of the political gains which African Americans in Louisiana had achieved since the end of the Civil War. In 1877, Democrats fully regained control of the state legislature after the withdrawal of federal troops, as a result of a national Democratic compromise marking the end of Reconstruction. Republican blacks continued to be elected to state and local offices, but elections were accompanied by violence and fraud. Most blacks were totally disfranchised by a new state constitution in 1898 and were effectively excluded from politics for decades.
Pinchback served as a delegate to the 1879 state constitutional convention; he and two other Republican African-American delegates, T. T. Allain, and Henry Demas, were credited with gaining support to establish Southern University, a historically black college in New Orleans, which was chartered in 1880. Pinchback was appointed as a member of Southern University's Board of Trustees (later redesignated the Board of Supervisors). The college relocated to the capital, Baton Rouge, in 1914. He was a delegate to the 1880 Republican National Convention.
In 1885, Pinchback studied law in New Orleans at Straight University, a historically black college later known as Dillard University. He was admitted to the Louisiana bar in 1886, but never practiced.
Continuing to be active in the African-American community, Pinchback had joined the Comité des Citoyens (Citizens' Committee), which set up the New Orleans civil rights challenge of Homer Plessy to state segregation in public transportation. Interstate trains were covered by federal legislation and supposed to be integrated. The case went to the Supreme Court of the United States as Plessy v. Ferguson. The Court ruled in 1896 that the state's providing "separate but equal" accommodations to African Americans was constitutional. This was a setback for African Americans; in practice, white-dominated legislatures and authorities generally underfunded black facilities, from train cars and waiting rooms to everything else.
Pinchback moved with his family to Washington, DC, in 1892. Wealthy from his positions and settlement on the Senate seat, he had a large mansion built off Fourteenth Street near the Chinese embassy. At the time, the oldest son Pinckney was established as a pharmacist in Philadelphia; the younger three ranged in age from 26 to 22 and were still living at home. The Pinchback family was part of the mixed-race elite in Washington; people in the group had generally been free before the war and often had formal educations and had acquired property. The Washington Post covered his housewarming reception and many high-ranking guests.
Pinchback and his wife Nina were the maternal grandparents of Jean Toomer. Their daughter Nina Pinchback Toomer returned to live with her parents after her husband abandoned her and Jean as an infant. They helped raise him, and he started school in Washington, DC. After his mother remarried, they moved to New Rochelle, New York. He returned to his grandparents after his mother died in 1909, and went to high school at the academic M Street School. As an adult, Toomer became a poet and writer who was prominent as a modernist in New York during the Harlem Renaissance.
It was not until 1990 that another African American served as governor of any U.S. state. In 1989, Douglas Wilder of Virginia became the first to be elected to office (and the second African-American state governor). Deval Patrick of Massachusetts was elected governor in 2006 and served from January 2007 to January 2015. David Paterson of New York became the fourth African-American governor on March 17, 2008, when he succeeded to office following the resignation of Eliot Spitzer.