While most history books point to Shirley Chisholm as the first Black person to run for the office of the President of the United States, the honor actually belongs to the son of a former slave. In 1904, well before Chisholm’s campaign, George Edwin Taylor was the first Black presidential candidate. Taylor was born August 4, 1857 in Little Rock, Ark. to an enslaved father and a free mother. (That is also, you may have noted, the birthday of our current president.)
As a boy, Taylor traveled to Wisconsin after a statewide law in Arkansas allowed for slaves to leave for the North and other free states. In the journey, Taylor’s mother died and he was taken in by a foster family in La Crosse, Wisc. At the age of 20, he attended Wayland University in Beaver Dam but didn’t complete his studies due to money and health.
He returned to LA Crosse and found footing as a newspaper reporter and editor. As the labor movement grew in the state, Taylor became involved in politics at that juncture. Although Taylor had the respect of his peers, race became a large factor in why much of his promise as a political figure went ignored.
A one-time Republican Independent, Taylor worked with Frederick Douglass and other powerful Black figures but those connections soured as Taylor didn’t quite follow the party’s agenda. In 1904, Little Rock’s National Nero Liberty Party asked him to be their candidate in a challenge to Theodore Roosevelt. The bid was unsuccessful and Taylor returned to journalism. Taylor relocated to Jacksonville, Fla., finding work as a reporter before eventually becoming the managing editor of the Florida Sentinel. Taylor died in 1925.
(Photo: Eartha M.M. White Collection, Thomas G. Carpenter Library, University of North Florida)