Oscar Stanton DePriest House

Oscar Stanton De Priest House Oscar Stanton De Priest House
Photograph courtesy of the Chicago Landmarks Commission
Oscar Stanton De Priest (1871-1951), lawmaker, civil rights advocate

This eight-flat apartment building, constructed in 1920, is associated with Oscar Stanton De Priest, the first African American elected to Congress in the 20th century. De Priest bought the building in 1929 and lived in one of its apartments until his death in 1951.

During his three terms (1928-1935), as the only black representative in Congress, De Priest introduced several anti-discrimination bills. His 1933 amendment barring discrimination in the Civilian Conservation Corps was passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Roosevelt. A second anti-lynching bill failed, even though it did not make lynching a federal crime. A third proposal--a bill to permit a transfer of jurisdiction if a defendant believed he or she could not get a fair trial because of race or religion--would be passed by another Congress in another era.

Civil rights activists criticized De Priest for opposing federal aid to the needy, but they applauded him for speaking in the South despite death threats. They also praised De Priest for telling an Alabama senator he was not big enough to prevent him from dining in the Senate restaurant and for defending the right of Howard University students to eat in the House restaurant. De Priest took the House restaurant issue to a special bipartisan House committee. In a three month-long heated debate, the Republican minority argued that the restaurant's discriminatory practice violated 14th Amendment rights to equal access. The Democratic majority skirted the issue by claiming that the restaurant was not open to the public, and the House restaurant remained segregated.

The Oscar Stanton De Priest House in Chicago is a National Historic Landmark and is located at 4536-4538 South Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive. It is not open to the public.

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