This Day in Black History: July 22, 1903

Francis Lewis Cardozo, the first Black elected to a statewide position, died in Washington, D.C.

Posted: 07/22/2013 12:00 AM EDT

Francis Lewis Cardozo, born on Jan. 1, 1837, to a free Black woman and a white father in Charleston, South Carolina, died in Washington, D.C., on July 22, 1903. A former South Carolina secretary of state, he was the first Black person in the U.S. elected to a statewide political position.

Before entering politics, Cardozo studied at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and studied at Presbyterian seminaries in London. He served as a minister and later worked for the American Missionary Association, an organization founded in 1865 by abolitionists who founded schools for freedmen, African-Americans and other minorities. The association led Cardozo to found the Avery Institute, Charleston's first free secondary school for African-Americans.

Cardozo, a Republican, attended South Carolina's state constitutional convention, where he argued against poll taxes and literacy tests and other efforts to disenfranchise freedmen. He was elected secretary of state in 1868 and state treasurer in 1872, a position to which he was twice re-elected.

After a political coup by white Democrats at the end of Reconstruction that reversed African-Americans' economic and political gains, Cardozo moved to Washington, D.C., and worked as a Treasury Department clerk.

He returned to education in 1884, and served as principal of two high schools. Cardozo Senior High School, located in the city's northwest quadrant, was named in his honor and operates to this day.

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(Photo: Public Domain)

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