Fredrick McGhee, first African American lawyer in Minnesota

Frederick McGhee
Mon, 1861-10-28

On this date in 1861, we mark the birth of Fredrick L. McGhee. He was an African American lawyer and civil rights activist.

From Mississippi, his father could read and write, and passed down to him the benefits of education. As a youngster, the family moved to Knoxville, TN, where he attended school with help from the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Presbyterian Church. Later he went to Chicago and worked as a waiter to pay for law school, graduating in 1885.

McGhee was the first African American lawyer in the state of Minnesota. With a keen sense of legal business, his most notable asset was his ability as an orator in the courtroom. He won clemency for a client, Lewis Carter, a Black soldier falsely accused of a crime, from President Benjamin Harrison. He was always mindful of the plight of Blacks and sought to be a part of a legal solution.

McGhee was director of the legal bureau of the National Afro-American Council and a founder of the Niagara Movement. Active politically, he was chosen as a presidential elector by the Minnesota Republican Party in the spring of 1892.

After protests by White Republicans, he was replaced in the summer of 1892. He stayed with the party until the spring of 1893, when the party reneged on another political promise. Later that year, he was refused a seat as a delegate at the Republican National Convention. Frustrated, McGhee changed his allegiance to the Democratic Party, becoming one of the first nationally prominent Black Democrats. A Catholic, he was very involved in Saint Peter Claver Church in St. Paul, MN.

He helped arrange the foundation for a branch of the NAACP but died in 1912 before the plan could be completed.

Fredrick L. McGhee, A Life on the Color Line
Paul Nelson
Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, MN.
Copyright 2001

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McGhee, Frederick