Rep. George Young Inspired by Legacy of A.C. Hamlin, First African American Elected to Oklahoma Legislature
OKLAHOMA CITY (8 May 2017) – “As I assume the role of chairman of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus, I am mindful of the personal/political environment and the national environment in which I take the rein of leadership,” state Rep. George E. Young Sr. said Monday.
“Let me first express my overwhelming awe at being a member within this group, and now having the opportunity to lead it,” he continued. “It is an inspiration to serve as a member in the line and in the lineage of so many great legislators, beginning with State Rep. Albert Comstock Hamlin.”
Hamlin was the first African American elected to the Oklahoma Legislature. He was elected in 1908 to represent Logan County in the House of Representatives in 1909-10.
Representative Hamlin “was faced with some very obvious obstacles that were based, I believe, solely on the color of his skin,” Reverend Young said.
Hamlin lost his re-election bid in 1910 after a “Jim Crow” provision limited black voter participation in Oklahoma by imposing a voter literacy test and enacting an onerous “grandfather clause.”
An exemption from the literacy requirement was authorized if a prospective voter could prove that his grandfathers had been voters or citizens of some foreign nation, or had served as soldiers, prior to Jan. 1, 1866. The net result was that illiterate whites were able to vote but illiterate blacks were not, because their grandfathers had almost all been slaves and therefore were barred from voting or serving as soldiers before 1866, the year after the Civil War concluded. And for extra measure, white registrars administered the highly subjective literacy tests.
In 1915, in the case of Guinn v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the grandfather clauses in the Oklahoma and Maryland constitutions to be repugnant to the 15th Amendment and therefore null and void. Ratified in 1870 as one of three Reconstruction amendments, the 15th Amendment provided that, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The Court’s decision came too late for Hamlin. He died on his farm on Aug. 29, 1912, from unknown causes, and was buried in Robinson Cemetery in Logan County.
“I am pleased to say that those of us who are members of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus now do not face such overt racism,” Dr. Young said. “The obstacles we face today are not purely of color, but of philosophy and power. I hold that we must not be the only ones willing to declare that we want to work together. It requires some constructive action on both parts.”
The Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus is “a historical and necessary component of the Oklahoma State Legislature,” Representative Young said. “I will present to the House Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tempore our proposed area of concerns and our expectations of them as leaders of both chambers to help us address these concerns.
“I anticipate periodic and regularly scheduled meetings with leaders of both chambers, in order for us to remain on one accord and to keep abreast of the progress of those things which impact our communities and the state as a whole.”
In closing, Young said, “I look forward to presenting, within 30-60 days of becoming chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, our plan and promise for the next two years. We need all hands on deck and all of us working for the benefit of all Oklahomans.”
Members of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus are: Rep. Jason Lowe, Sen. Anastasia Pittman and Representative Young, all Oklahoma City Democrats; Rep. Regina Goodwin, Rep. Monroe Nichols and Sen. Kevin L. Matthews, all Tulsa Democrats.
MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile