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Pinckney B.S. Pinchback in Reconstruction

Pinckney B.S. Pinchback (1837-1921) was the first black governor in the United States, serving as chief executive of Louisiana in 1872 and '73. There would not be another black governor of any American state until 1989, when Virginian Lawrence Douglas Wilder (an Independent) won office. Pinchback's term was brief—from 9 December 1872 to 13 January 1873—but historic.

Pinchback, who was a "quadroon" (a person of one-fourth African descent), was raised in a world of privilege extremely rare for most blacks, until his father's death left him destitute. Pinchback was forced to find a job as a cabin boy on the Ohio River to support his family. Although he was light-skinned enough to pass for a white person—and therefore obtain better jobs—he decided to recognize his African heritage, settling for lower paying, menial jobs. When the Civil War broke out, he ran the Confederate blockade on the Mississippi River and raised a black regiment in New Orleans (the "Corps d'Afrique") to fight for the Union. Pinchback returned to New Orleans after the war, became active in Republican politics, and ascended to the state governorship after his predecessor, Henry Clay Warmoth, was impeached. He was also elected to Congress twice, but was denied his seats for spurious reasons (in reality, likely due to his skin color). Soon after, Pinchback became disillusioned amidst the failure of Reconstruction, starting anew as a lawyer at the age of 50.

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