December 9th, 1872

First Black Governor in the U.S. Takes Office in Louisiana

Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, or P.B.S. as he preferred, was born the son of Eliza Stewart, an enslaved woman, and William Pinchback, her white master, on a Mississippi plantation in 1837. P.B.S. Pinchback and his mother were freed when he was a young child and moved to Ohio, where they lived together until his mother died when he was just 12 years old. He then traveled back to the South and found work as a cabin boy.

In 1862, Pinchback moved to Louisiana and enlisted in the Union Army, encouraging other African Americans to do the same. After the war ended, he joined the Louisiana Republican Party and, in 1868, was elected to the state legislature and chosen as President Pro Tempore of the Senate. When Louisiana’s African American lieutenant governor, Oscar Dunn, died in 1871, Pinchback was automatically promoted to lieutenant governor.

In the 1872 presidential election, Louisiana Governor Henry Clay Warmouth, a white Republican, supported Democrat Horace Greeley in his presidential race against Republican Ulysses Grant. Following President Grant’s election, the Louisiana state senate impeached Governor Warmouth, leaving Lt. Governor Pinchback to take over the office.

On December 9, 1872, P.B.S. Pinchback was sworn in as Governor of Louisiana, becoming the first black governor in United States history. He occupied the office for just 43 days, until a special election was held and Republican William Pitt Kellog elected and sworn in. The United States would not see its first elected black governor for another 118 years, when Douglas Wilder was sworn in as Governor of Virginia in 1990.