Notes on Joseph H. Stuart

My recent article features my preliminary research on Joseph H. Stuart, Colorado’s (I think) second black legislator and an extraordinary man by all accounts. Here I’m going to summarize the research from that article and add new items. Note that in some cases I’m quoting from old newspapers that used language that offends the modern ear.

Annie Nelson writes for the Denver Library, “1881 – In November, John T. Gunnell becomes the first African American to sit in the Colorado Legislature.” I believe that Gunnell was elected in 1880 and served a single term starting in 1881. I found almost nothing more about him. Interestingly, this source also says that Frederick Douglass’s sons Lewis and Frederick Jr. lived in Denver and “established Denver’s first black school.” And it briefly summarizes the contributions of various other important African Americans in Denver. But it doesn’t mention Stuart.

The Colorado Daily Chieftain, October 27, 1894, describes a Republican campaign event where Stuart spoke.

Various newspapers, including the Silver Cliff Rustler (December 1, 1897), mention that Stuart was “admitted to practice before the federal courts,” according to the paper the first African American “to be given this privilege.”

The Statesman (July 20, 1906) describes an absolutely jaw-dropping legal victory (criminal defense) of Stuart’s.

And the Statesman (April 16, 1910) memorializes Stuart’s death, confirming he was in the legislature.

Now for some additional sources (that I didn’t mention in my article).

The Denver Library has a biography of Elizabeth Piper Ensley, who “was born the child of a former slave and spent her life fighting for women’s suffrage and the rights of African Americans.” The biography continues, “In 1904, Elizabeth founded the Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. This was an attempt to unite various organizations around Colorado, push for greater equality, and provide educational opportunities. Part of Elizabeth’s work included gaining the support of black men on issues like national women’s suffrage. She even helped unite men and women of all races to elect Colorado’s first [I think second] black legislator, Joseph Stuart.”

An old book by R. G. Dill (p. 61) lists John T. Gunnell as part of Colorado’s Third General Assembly, which squares with other information. An overtly racist article by the Leadville Democrat (February 24, 1881) says that a “Representative Gunnell, of Arapahoe,” is African American.

A book by Quintart Taylor lists “Nineteenth-Century Black Western Legislators” as including John T. Gunnell (1881–83) and Joseph H. Stuart (1895–97), suggesting that each man served a single term. Another reference to both men comes in a book by (lead) Arturo J. Aldama.

A Swedish paper lists Stuart as a candidate in 1894.

The Statesman later turned on Stuart, accusing him of “treachery” (August 22, 1908) for apparently not supporting another black legislative candidate. This seems like a deeply personal dispute where the paper took the side opposite Stuart.

Apparently Stuart sought to run for the legislature again in 1906. The Statesman was highly critical of Stuart at this time (September 7, 1906).

The Colorado Daily Chieftain (November 2, 1898) discusses a rally in Bessemer (now Pueblo) where Stuart spoke. The subhead notes, “Two prominent colored speakers from Denver made stirring appeals to the audience to support the Republican ticket.” The article reports, “J. J. Jennings made a stirring address to open the meeting, and he was followed by J. H. Stuart, of Denver, a prominent colored man, who is running for representative on the republican ticket in Arapahoe county. . . . He laughed at the idea of the democrats accomplishing anything that was good for the people, even the free coinage of silver.”

The Colorado Daily Chieftain runs an article (February 22, 1895), reporting that, on February 21, Stuart introduced resolutions in the state house honoring Frederick Douglass, who died February 20.

The Statesman reports (November 30, 1907), “A delegation of colored lawyers called on the governor in support of Joseph H. Stuart” for a Supreme Court position, which went instead to Joseph C. Helm.

The Colorado Transcript (September 12, 1894) notes that Stuart was nominated.

Stuart participated in the State Business League (Statesman, July 31, 1909).

The Fort Collins Courier (November 15, 1894) notes Stuart was elected as representative in 1894.

On February 25, Governor Jared Polis posted the following note to Facebook (with a really outstanding photo of Stuart): “During #BlackHistoryMonth, we honor people like Joseph H. Stuart, the first African American to be elected to serve in the state’s House of Representatives in 1894 and fought to end housing discrimination and other forms of racial intolerance.”

The San Diego History Center has a write-up of Stuart by Robert Fikes, Jr.: “Rail connections had been completed to the east and north, and San Diego appeared to be on the verge of a population boom when Joseph Henry Stuart (1849-1910) arrived in 1890 via Kansas City, having earned his law degree at the University of South Carolina fifteen years before. The San Diego Union, a newspaper that routinely allowed biased racial terminology referring to African Americans in its headlines and articles, took notice when the ambitious 31-year-old registered with the bar [Stuart] announcing under the headline ‘A Colored Attorney Admitted’ [San Diego Union, January 7, 1891, p. 5]. . . . But despite some positive regional economic indicators and the presence of some determined and accomplished ex-slaves and their descendants, Stuart’s year-long stay ended because a legal career could not prosper serving a ‘colored’ population of only 289, representing fewer than one percent of the city’s residents [Robert L. Carlton, “Blacks in San Diego County, 1850-1900” (Master’s thesis, San Diego State University, 1977), p. 83]. And it was particularly difficult for a black attorney to launch a successful practice in this era of egregious racial segregation when he had to prove his competence even to his own people, working solo without the advantage of professional consultation, and probably forced to do more pro bono work than he would have preferred. So Stuart, a social activist with a taste for politics, packed his bags and moved to Denver, Colorado, then with ten times the black population of San Diego, where eventually he was elected to the Colorado State Assembly and, in 1900, was privileged to sit at the table of honor with Booker T. Washington and Paul Laurence Dunbar when these celebrities visited the Mile-High City [David L. Erickson, Early Justice and the Formation of the Colorado Bar (Denver: Continuing Legal Education in Colorado Inc., 2008), pp. 97-108].”

“In 1942, Earl Mann became the second black man [I think third] elected to Colorado state office when he won a position in the Colorado state house of representatives” (Summer Marie Cherland).

J. Clay Smith, Jr. has out a book, Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer 1844–1944, that discusses Stuart. Smith is the only source I found claiming that Stuart was elected twice to the state house. Smith says that Stuart graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1877, and on “December 1, 1891 . . . became the second black lawyer admitted to practice in Colorado,” having “previously been admitted to the Kansas bar in 1883. Smith claims Stuart “was elected to the Ninth and Tenth Colorado General Assemblies as a representative from Arapahoe County. He served in this capacity from 1893 to 1897. Among Stuart’s major achievements in the Colorado legislature was the sponsorship of a bill to strengthen the state’s existing civil rights legislation.” However, in a different section, Smith says Stuart “was elected to the state legislature in 1895.”

The Herald Democrat (March 27, 1895) mentions that, on March 26, “Stuart’s civil rights bill, prohibiting discrimination, passed third reading” (apparently in the state senate).

The Indicator (February 16, 1895) offers more detail about Stuart’s bill: “The House then went into committee of the whole on the civil rights bill, and Mr. Stuart made an extended speech in its favor. The bill amends the law so that colored persons cannot be excluded from hotels or theaters. Mr. Stuart said that colored citizens were constantly discriminated against in Denver, confined to certain objectionable portions of the theaters, and refused a place in restaurants. The bill passed unanimously, the decision being greeted by a brisk round of applause from colored citizens who thronged the galleries. They could be seen smiling, shaking hands and congratulating each other vigorously as they filed out. The bill fixes a minimum fine of $10 and [text obscure; perhaps, a maximum fine of $200 for violations].”

The Saguache Crescent (April 4, 1895) describes House Bill “175, Stuart, an act protecting citizens in the full and equal enjoyment of privileges of inns, restaurants, barber shops, theaters, and all places of public accommodation and amusement.”

Wallace F. Caldwell says that Colorado first past “public accommodations laws” in 1885. It’s unclear (to me) how the law changed in 1895.

A story in the Aspen Weekly Times (November 16, 1895) discusses a case of a person who professed to discriminating against a black patron but who has let off by a jury: “John O’Riley, proprietor of the Delmonico restaurant, was placed on trial in Justice Leahy’s court yesterday afternoon for having refused to permit a negro to enjoy equal advantages with white men at his boarding house. The case was heard before a jury, which, although the defendant acknowledged by his own testimony that the charges were true, returned a verdict of not guilty after half an hour’s deliberation.” The article goes into the trial in substantial detail.


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