Black Pioneers: George Edwin Taylor

George Edwin Taylor
Drawing of George Edwin Taylor published in The Quincy Daily Journal of Quincy, Ill. on Aug. 25, 1897.

George Edwin Taylor was the first African American standard-bearer of a national political party to run for the office of president of the United States. Taylor was born in Little Rock on Aug. 4, 1857, to Bryant (Nathan) Taylor, a slave, and Amanda Hines, a “free Negro” woman.

He had 11 siblings, none of whom are known by name. Nothing is known about his parents, except Amanda Hines was forced to leave Arkansas in 1859 in compliance with the state’s Free Negro Expulsion Act, which was signed into law on this date in 1859. She fled with infant Taylor to Alton, Ill., a major center of the Underground Railroad, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Little is known about Taylor’s time in Alton, except that his mother died from tuberculosis in 1861 or 1862, and the young Taylor lived in “dry goods boxes” before he was taken to the La Crosse, Wis. area, where he lived from 1865 to 1891. While in La Crosse (1865 to 1867), he lived with the Henry and Agnes Southall family and attended La Crosse’s schools. From 1867, he was raised by a politically active Black farmer near West Salem, Wis. 

From 1879, Taylor worked as a journalist in the La Crosse area, contributing to numerous local newspapers and eventually owning and editing the Wisconsin Labor Advocate. He was active in local and state politics, especially in the labor movement and in the Wisconsin People’s and Union Labor parties. 

He moved to Oskaloosa, Iowa in 1891, where he owned and edited the Negro Solicitor. While in Iowa, Taylor was president of the National Negro Democratic League, the National Negro Men’s Protective Association, and the National (Negro) Knights of Pythias. 

Taylor married three times: Mary Hall of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, on Oct. 15, 1885; Cora E. Cooper in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Aug. 25, 1894; and Marian Tillinghast of Green Cove Springs, Fla. circa 1919. No children were born to any of these marriages.

Taylor’s principal success (and failure) was his candidacy of the National Negro Liberty Party in 1904 for the office of president of the United States. That election was won by Theodore Roosevelt, but Taylor’s 1904 candidacy reflected the enormous trauma then facing African American voters who were witnessing a fundamental failure of both Republicans and Democrats to protect civil rights gained after the war, a systematic and thorough disfranchisement of their race in Southern states, and an imposition of Jim Crow laws and segregation. 

The Liberty Party’s platform contained planks that supported pensions for ex-slaves, independence for Puerto Ricans and Filipinos, and representation for voters in the District of Columbia. It also condemned disenfranchisement efforts then sweeping the South. The state of Arkansas played a prominent role in attempts to dehumanize Black citizens.

Taylor died in Jacksonville, Fla. on Dec. 23, 1925. The cause of death and his place of burial are unknown.