Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Oscar Stanton De Priest
Oscar Stanton De Priest was the first African American elected to Congress in the 20th century. He was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1928 as a Republican. During his three terms (1928-1935), as the only black representative in Congress, De Priest introduced several anti-discrimination bills. His 1933 amendment barring discrimination in the Civilian Conservation Corps was passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Roosevelt. A second anti-lynching bill failed, even though it did not make lynching a federal crime. A third proposal, a bill to permit a transfer of jurisdiction if a defendant believed he or she could not get a fair trial because of race or religion, would be passed by another Congress in another era.
Civil rights activists criticized De Priest for opposing federal aid to the needy, but they applauded him for speaking in the South despite death threats. They also praised De Priest for telling an Alabama senator he was not big enough to prevent him from dining in the Senate restaurant and for defending the right of Howard University students to eat in the House restaurant. De Priest took the House restaurant issue to a special bipartisan House committee. In a three month-long heated debate, the Republican minority argued that the restaurant's discriminatory practice violated 14th Amendment rights to equal access. The Democratic majority skirted the issue by claiming that the restaurant was not open to the public, and the House restaurant remained segregated. De Priest was defeated in 1934 by Democrat Arthur W. Mitchell, who was also an African American. De Priest was also defeated in 1936. He was elected to the Chicago city council in 1943 and served until 1947.
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