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The Quest for Political Power
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Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division

Oscar DePriest

The son of former slaves, Oscar DePriest (1871-1951) was born in Florence, Alabama. Incessant economic insecurity and periodic lynchings encouraged the family to migrate to Kansas in 1878, during the "Great Exodus." Later, in hopes of improving his fortune, DePriest moved to Chicago and entered politics, becoming an outspoken and resourceful organizer. A member of the Republic Party, he served as Cook County commissioner (1904 -08) and became the first African American elected to Chicago's city council (1915-17). In 1928 Chicago elected Oscar DePriest to the U.S. Congress. Throughout his political career, DePriest advocated the abolition of racial discrimination in the government; military employment; and a federal anti-lynching bill. DePriest, who lost his seat in 1934, died in Chicago in 1951.

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