The upcoming election, particularly the Pittsburgh city mayoral election, is a reminder of political elections of the 1950s and 1960s. It was the beginning of my involvement in politics. It was a rarity for Blacks to hold elected offices. I remember in my ward there was only one Black committee person. I will never forget how effective the political machine had been. The committeeman in my district was titled as the most efficient vote-getter in Allegheny County. I voiced my opinion to him about the fact that 99 percent of the committee persons were White, and he replied, “It has always been this way.” The tragedy was that I took my concerns to the Black voters and their response was identical, “It has always been like this,” but added, “You are young, you don’t understand.”
There were those of us who would not accept the system could not be changed and we began to encourage and convince Blacks to run for ward offices such as magistrate, constable and committee men and women, and it was no an easy task. The most difficult issue we had to eradicate was the constant reply that things will never change; it’s always been like this. Upon becoming 21, I registered as a Republican, but we always identified ourselves as “Colored Republicans.” The “Colored Democrats” put on blinders and could not recognize they were being mistreated by the Democratic Party.
The very first election of a Black person in the Lower Hill was an election of a Black man to the position of constable, but the successful campaign was driven by the colored Republicans. We met and decided that it would be more beneficial to the Lower Hill if we put political party in the background and designed a way to help a Black Democrat. The Democrat Party had beaten the Black candidate twice and they used against him that he had a speech impediment and was not academically qualified. The White candidate’s basic qualification was the fact that he was White.
We, the Republicans, had untold numbers of flyers printed and distributed and small mirrors with the Black candidate’s picture and the words vote for the person in the mirror, yourself. We passed out the pictures and flyers the entire summer. We the people were victorious. I will always remember that election.
The other day I was at a luncheon and was asked the question who was I voting for in the upcoming mayor’s race. My answer was easy. The person I see in the mirror, Rev. John C. Welch.
(Louis “Hop” Kendrick is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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