1936 : Harold E. Bledsoe, Only African American To Cast An Electoral College Vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt

December 14, 2018 all-day

In 1936, Harold E. Bledsoe, a prominent Detroit attorney, was the only African American to cast an electoral college vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The Electoral College:

In 1787, founding fathers like Alexander Hamilton advocated through the U.S. Constitution for the Electoral College, a process of having representatives cast votes on behalf of actual voters.

In Hamilton’s words: “(The) immediate election (of the President should) be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.” He went on to write: “small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”

21st century translation: Common people are stupid.

Hamilton became our nation’s first treasury secretary, serving from 1789 to 1795 during George Washington’s administration. His colleague, James Madison, a slave owner and considered the “father of the Constitution” was even more out cold. He stated that “Negroes” in the South presented a “difficulty … of a serious nature.” He proposed the infamous compromise in the Constitution whereby black slaves would be counted at three-fifths of a human being—not a whole. Madison later served two terms as president, from 1809 to 1817.

More About Bledsoe

The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation’s leading black newspapers described the 1936 historic first in its December 26th news story subtitled: “Paging Ridley.”

“Believe it or not! Attorney Harold E. Bledsoe, National Democratic chieftain, is the only Negro in the nation who actually voted for the re-election of President Roosevelt… Bledsoe, of course, was a member of the State Electoral College. The only race man so signally honored.”

A Democratic Party wave had swept through the country. In terms of electoral votes, it was the most lopsided presidential contest in American history. Roosevelt carried 46 of 48 states over Kansas Governor Alfred Landon. Frank Murphy, a liberal with strong ties to organized labor, was elected Michigan governor.

Michigan was allotted 19 electoral votes and the group looked like present day Livonia. Other than Bledsoe, there were 15 white men and three white women. They met in Lansing on December 14 in the Senate Chamber of the state Capitol Building.

Justice George Bushnell of the Michigan Supreme Court called members to order at 2 p.m. John Cahalan of Wyandotte was elected chairman; Adelaide Williams of Detroit was elected secretary. The electors wrote Roosevelt’s name on slips of paper and dropped them into a hat.

The Great Migration

In pursuit of a better way of life, blacks and southern white flocked to cities like Detroit. In fact, the city’s black population soared from about 5,700 in 1910 to 120,000 in 1930.

Bledsoe, along with funeral home owner Charles C. Diggs, Sr.; Joseph Craigen also an attorney; and Joseph Coles, led the way during the early 1930s to encourage Michigan blacks to vote for Democratic Party candidates. The men formed the Michigan Federated Democratic Club in 1932 as Roosevelt’s initial run for the U.S. presidency was gaining steam like a Grand Trunk Western Railroad locomotive. In 1934, Bledsoe became the first African American to serve as a state attorney general, an appointed position. Diggs, who operated a funeral home on St. Aubin Street in the Black Bottom community, was elected to the Michigan Senate in 1936.

“We were independent then…not obligated to any party and we weren’t out begging nor were we satisfied with crumbs,” Bledsoe recalled many years later in a September 28, 1963 Michigan Chronicle feature. “Those who were active in politics then had to be willing to help pay the freight for the race’s political emancipation. No other organizations were willing to underwrite our movement, which I think was one of the midwives that gave birth to the Negro’s hopes in organized labor.”

At any rate, as a token gesture, the Michigan Democratic party selected Bledsoe to be a member of Michigan’s Electoral College contingent for the 1936 election.

And so, on December 14, 1936,  Harold E. Bledsoe, a black man from Detroit’s North End, cast an electoral  ballot for the President of the United States, the only African American to do so..

Source: Ken Coleman, “First black man to cast Electoral College ballot was a Detroiter“, Michigan Chronicle, December 2, 2016.

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