An alarming event took place in Louisiana 145 years ago. Though the former Confederate state was on the losing side of the Civil War a few years prior, little could have prepared the state’s plantation owners, white terror groups and elected officials for the infamous day of Dec. 9, 1872, when a Black man was sworn into the most powerful position in the state. Upon the suspension of the scandal-ridden Henry Clay Warmouth from office 35 days before the end of his term, Lt. Gov. Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback became acting governor of Louisiana and the first Black governor of any American state.
One month later, Pinchback’s brief reign ended as he served out the remainder of the term. What also ended was any real chance of his feat being replicated, as a concerted campaign of murder and intimidation by white terror groups — one supported by local officials and business leaders — thwarted the Reconstruction-era gains of the country’s newest citizens and shrank Black voter registration by the tens of thousands.
It would take 117 years for another Black man to become governor of an American state with the 1990 election of Douglas Wilder in Virginia. And today, almost a century and a half since Pinchback’s pioneering role and less than a year removed from the alleged “postracial” presidency of Barack Obama, only three African-Americans, including Wilder, have helmed a state. (Atlanta Black Star)