George Edwin Taylor, born in the pre-Civil War South to a free mother and an enslaved father, would become the first African American chosen by a political party to be its candidate for the presidency of the United States.
Taylor was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on August 4, 1857, to Amanda Hines and Bryant (Nathan) Taylor. George Taylor moved from Arkansas to Illinois with his mother when he was two years old. When Amanda died a few years later, George was left to fend for himself until 1865, when he arrived in Wisconsin via paddleboat. Raised in and around La Crosse by a politically engaged black family, he attended Wayland University in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin from 1877 to 1879 before returning to La Crosse and working for the La Crosse Free Press and later the La Crosse Evening Star. From 1880 through 1885, he wrote weekly columns for local dailies and articles for the Chicago Inter Ocean.
Taylor’s journalistic employment introduced him to politics, particularly labor politics. In 1886, he supported one of the dueling labor groups in La Crosse and helped re-elect pro-labor mayor Frank “White Beaver” Powell. Taylor rose through the ranks of Wisconsin’s statewide Union Labor Party to become a leader and office holder, and his own newspaper, the Wisconsin Labor Advocate, became one of the party’s publications.
Taylor was a member of the Wisconsin delegation to the Union Labor Party’s first national convention, held in Ohio in April 1887, and refocused his publication on national political problems. Taylor’s race became an issue as his celebrity grew, and he responded to the criticism by writing more on African American issues. His paper discontinued publishing somewhere in 1887 or 1888.
Taylor went to Oskaloosa, Iowa in 1891, where he maintained his political involvement, first with the Republican Party and subsequently with the Democrats. Taylor owned and edited the Negro Solicitor in Iowa and became president of the National Colored Men’s Protective Association (an early civil rights organization) and the National Negro Democratic League, a black Democratic Party organization. From 1900 until 1904, he was a member of the Populist movement, which aimed to reform the Democratic Party.
Taylor and other independent-minded African Americans formed the National Liberty Party, the first national political party founded only for and by blacks, in 1904. (NLP). Delegates from thirty-six states attended the Party’s national convention in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904. When the Party’s presidential candidate was arrested in Illinois, the NLP Executive Committee approached Taylor and asked him to be the party’s candidate.
While Taylor’s campaign received little attention, the Party’s platform included a national agenda: universal suffrage for all citizens, regardless of race; federal protection of all citizens’ rights; federal anti-lynching laws; additional black regiments in the United States Army; federal pensions for all former slaves; government ownership and control of all public carriers to ensure equal accommodations for all citizens; and home rule for the District of Columbia.
Taylor’s presidential campaign was a shambles. In an interview published in The Sun (New York, November 20, 1904), he stated that while he knew whites thought his candidacy was a “joke,” he believed that the only practical way for blacks to exercise political influence was through an independent political party that could mobilize the African American vote. Taylor garnered a smattering of votes on election day.
Taylor’s final political campaign was in 1904. He was a resident of Iowa until 1910, when he relocated to Jacksonville, Florida. He worked as an editor for several periodicals and as the director of the local YMCA’s African American branch. He had three marriages but no children. George Edwin Taylor died on December 23, 1925, at the age of 68, in Jacksonville.