Oscar Stanton De Priest became a national political figure during his three terms in Congress. The talk “Oscar S. De Priest: A Black Congressman in Jim Crow America” will be 2-3:30 p.m. Friday, February 26. 

Congressman Oscar Stanton De Priest seated at his desk
Congressman Oscar Stanton De Priest

Leading the special lecture for Black History Month will be Dr. Calvin White Jr., of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences  at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. The talk, sponsored by the Department of History and African American Studies at Illinois State University, is free and will be held virtually. To register, send your name and the email address to which you would like the Zoom link sent to history@ilstu.edu by noon on February 26.  

Congressman Oscar De Priest 
Known as the “Negroes’ Congressman,” Oscar Stanton De Priest became a national political figure during his three terms in Congress. Representing the people of the 1st Congressional District of Illinois, De Priest engaged in heated debates with President Herbert Hoover, fought furiously over the issues of segregation in the congressional restaurant, and argued for congressional appropriations for Black institutions of higher learning. Understanding the importance of his position, De Priest used his congressional seat to raise money for the NAACP, worked with fellow Chicagoan and anti-lynching reformer Ida B. Wells, and forged an alliance with Mary Church Terrell, the nation’s leading African American female reformer.  

White’s talk will show that De Priest bridged 19th century political activism to that of the 20th century. More important, White argues that De Priest’s political career offers a first-person account of America’s great political realignment when blacks left the Republican Party en masse for the ranks of the Democratic Party.

White will show that no true understanding of Black political life, and the issues surrounding it, can be understood without a thorough examination of the first black national political figure from the state of Illinois.  

Dr. Calvin White 
Dr. Calvin White Jr. is currently an associate dean of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and associate professor of history at the University of Arkansas. 

headshot of Dr. Calvin White Jr.
Dr. Calvin White Jr.

Prior to his current position, he served as chair of the Department of History and director of the African and African American Studies Program. White earned his Ph.D. from the University of Mississippi and his research focuses on the American South with an emphasis on the African American experience. White is currently working on his second book, a biography on Oscar S. De Priest, the first African American to Congress after Reconstruction, which is currently under contract with Palgrave MacMillan.  

White is the recipient of several national fellowships and has served as a Gilder-Lehrman fellow at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. Recognized by the University of Arkansas administration for his leadership, he was named a Fellow of the Southeastern Conference Academic Leadership Development Program and a Provost Lecturer. While maintaining an active research agenda, Dr. White still believes in community engagement and most of all, student mentorship. White has never forgotten the transformative nature of education. In his own words, “education is the great and only equalizer. It only considers how hard you are willing to work and endure.”