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Black News and News Makers in History: Fredrick McGhee

African American news from Pasadena - Black News and News Makers in History - recognizes Fredrick McGhee this week in Black historyFredrick L. McGhee, lawyer and civil rights activist and one of America's first African American attorneys. Able to achieve a substantial career as an attorney and become one of the civil rights pioneers, was a contemporary of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois.

Born October 28, 1861 in Aberdeen, Mississippi to slaves. His father, able to read and write without a formal education, passed down to him the benefits of education. As a youngster, the family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. At age 12 years, his father died and within a short period, his mother died leaving Fredrick and his two siblings orphans.

He was able to Knoxville College in Tennessee with the assistance of the Freedmen's Bureau and the Presbyterian Church. Later he went to Chicago and worked as a waiter to pay for law school, graduating in 1885. He was the first African-American lawyer in the state of Minnesota. With a keen sense of legal business, his most notable asset was his ability as an orator in the courtroom.


Although he began his legal career in Chicago, McGhee settled in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he became the first black lawyer admitted to the bar in that state. With a much smaller black population from which to attract clients, McGhee primarily represented whites, gaining a reputation for competence and oratory. He also became the first African American lawyer admitted to the bar in Tennessee and Illinois. He was one of the most highly skilled criminal lawyers of the Old Northwest.

In his law practice, McGhee once won a clemency from President Benjamin Harrison for a client, Lewis Carter, who was a black soldier falsely accused of a crime.

In 1886, he married Mattie B. Crane. The couple had one daughter. Converting from the Baptist demonination to Catholicisim, he was very involved in St. Peter Claver Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.

He was also very active politically. He was chosen to be a presidential elector by the Minnesota Republican party in the spring of 1892. After protests by White Republicans, he was replaced in the summer of 1892. He stayed with the party until the spring of 1893 when it reneged on another political promise. Later that year he was refused a seat as a delegate at the Republican National Convention. Frustrated, McGhee changed his allegiance to the Democratic Party; becoming one of the first nationally prominent Black Democrats.

Despite his success as a criminal lawyer, he was primarily a race relations advocate. Always mindful of the plight of Blacks, he sought a legal solution. By the early 1900s, McGhee became interested in the national discussion concerning racial discrimination and social equality.

He was director of the legal bureau of the National Afro-American Council and a founder of the Niagara Movement.

In 1905, McGhee with Du Bois and others formed one of the first national civil rights organizations, the Niagara Movement, which was an attempt by more radical blacks to directly and honestly oppose the conservative actions and views of Booker T. Washington. The Niagara Movement was the forerunner of the NAACP. In September 1905, Du Bois went so far as to give McGhee full credit for creating the more radical entity, stating, "The honor of founding the organization belongs to F. L. McGhee, who first suggested it."

He helped arrange the foundation for a branch of the NAACP. He died September 8, 1912 at age 50 of pleurisy.

Excerpts from Wikipedia and www.anothershadeofcolor.com and http://digitalgallery.nypl.org (photo).