From Slave to State Legislator by David Joens

This non-fiction book explores the life and political career of John W. E. Thomas.  He was born a slave to a free black man and a female slave owned by a doctor in Mobile, Alabama.  During the Civil War, his dad attempted, unsuccessfully, to buy his son’s freedom.  But Thomas bad been educated by his doctor/owner and was used to collect fees and run other errands for the doctor.  Post-War he moved to Chicago to reside with his father and continue his education.  He ultimately became a lawyer, and helped to organize African-Americans politically in Chicago, and he also remained loyal to the Republican Party – the party of Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, throughout his political career. 

When he died in 1899, Thomas had founded the city’s first private school for African-American children,, and was believed to be the wealthiest African-American in Chicago.  But his legislative legacy is more important than those personal accomplishments as he wrote, and helped to pass, the first state civil rights law, in 1885.

Though a bit dry, and confusing at times, this is an important look at 1) a little-known piece of Illinois’ history; and 2) an eye-opening look at Chicago, and Illinois’ political processes. 

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