This Day in Black History: May 12, 1951

Former congressman Oscar De Priest died of complications from a bus accident.

Posted: 05/12/2013 08:30 AM EDT

Oscar Stanton De Priest ended a 28-year-long dry spell of Black congressional lawmakers when he was elected to the House in 1928, representing Chicago. In addition to his somewhat successful political career, DePriest also had an active real estate business. The former Chicago lawmaker died of complications from a bus accident on May 12, 1951.

De Priest was born to former slaves in Florence, Alabama, in 1871, where he lived until his family migrated to Kansas in 1878. He landed in Chicago a little over a decade later to apprentice in the building renovations before opening his own real estate management firm.

A Republican, De Priest won his first elective office, a seat on Chicago's Cook County board of commissioners, in one of the cities known for political patronage thanks in part to his ability to deliver Black voters. But it was a career of ups and downs. Failing to win a third term, De Priest turned his attention to building his business. In 1915, he served as the city's first Black alderman before being forced to step down following a bribery indictment.

In 1924, the successful businessman became a Third Ward committeeman and, in 1928, he won a Republican congressional seat by a slim margin, making him the first Black elected to Congress from the North and in the 20th century.

After three terms, during which he often felt he was representing all African-Americans, De Priest lost his seat to the first Black Democrat elected to Congress, Arthur Wergs Mitchell. After failing to regain the seat, he served on Chicago's city council again and, after losing that seat, focused on his real estate business until his death in 1951 at age 80.

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(Photo: Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

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