Patriot Section Highlight- Francis Lewis Cardozo

Francis Lewis Cardozo

We have begun Black History Month and today I want to honor that with a special American patriot: Francis Lewis Cardozo, the first black man to hold an elected statewide office in the United States of America.

Born on February 1, 1836 in Charleston, South Carolina to an free African-American woman named Lydia Weston and Isaac Cardozo, a Jewish man. Because Francis’ parents were mixed race, they were forbidden to marry so they had a common law marriage. Along with his brother, Thomas, they went to a school to free blacks and both worked as carpenters. 

He traveled to Great Britain where he studied at seminaries in Edinburgh, Scotland and London, England where he would become a Presbyterian minister. He became a pastor at a church in 1864 in New Haven, Connecticut where he met his wife Catherine. The couple would have six children together. 

Cardozo moved back to Charleston in 1865 where he later succeeded his brother as the superintendent of an American Missionary Association school. He used that as a jumping point to launch the Avery Normal Institute, a secondary school to train black educators. 

In 1868 he joined the Republican Party and became a delegate of the South Carolina constitutional convention. He also served as the chairman of the education committee where he was ahead of his time advocating for integrated elementary and high schools. 

In 1872, Cardozo was elected as South Carolina state treasurer. Because he refused to play ball with corrupt politicians, they tried unsuccessfully to impeach him. He was reelected every year, however, in 1876, he did win reelection, but the Democrats retook control of the state with national compromise. 

The Democrats brought him up on trumped up charges of conspiracy against him in 1877. He was jailed for six months, but received a pardon from the governor in return for charges being dropped against the Democrats’ cronies. 

He moved his family to Washington DC where he worked for the Treasury Department and later as the principle of an African-American prep school. 

Francis Lewis Cardozo passed away in July 22, 1903. Cardozo Senior High School in Washington DC is named after him. 

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