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Oscar Stanton De Priest represented Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was the first African American elected to Congress in the 20th century.
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But life in his new city, which was still heavily segregated, and work at the House was anything but easy for De Priest. Two Southern members refused to allow their offices to be adjacent to his, and when Louise Hoover, the President's wife, invited Jessie to the Executive Mansion for tea, it sent shock-waves throughout the South.
But De Priest refused to back down. "I've been elected to Congress the same way as any other member," he said. "I'm going to have the rights of every other Congressman,
no more, no less, if it's in the Congressional barber shop or at a White House tea."
He backed up his words with his work. He quietly took his seat on less glamorous committees such as Indian Affairs, Invalid Pensions, an Enrolled Bills. De Priest, who would go on to serve three terms, later served on the Post Office and Post Roads Committee.
His work also included several anti-discrimination bills, including a 1933 amendment that barred discrimination practices in the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Roosevelt. He pushed other bills, too, including a $75 per month pension for former slaves who were over the age of 75, and tried to retract the number of seats a state could have in the House if they disenfranchised blacks. De Priest also introduced several anti-lynching bills and, in 1933, introduced a joint resolution authorizing the federal government to change the location of a trial if the defendant's right was hampered by his race, color, or creed.
As a Republican, however, De Priest was opposed to the kinds of federal government programs President Roosevelt was pushing with his New Deal program. It was a stance he continued to take even as the Depression wore on and poverty throughout the country escalated. Eventually, many of the same African-Americans who had sided with the party of Abraham Lincoln since the Civil War, crossed the aisle and gave their support to the Democrats. In November 1934, De Priest lost his bid for a fourth term when Arthur Mitchell, a New Deal Democrat, defeated him.
While he would never again achieve the kind of political clout he'd had when he'd served in Washington, De Priest was not done politically. In 1943 he again won an election, this time to return to his old stomping grounds as Third Ward alderman. He later had a second stint on the Chicago City Council.
Oscar Stanton De Priest died on May 12, 1951, in Chicago. He is buried in Graceland Cemetery.
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