In the article below Bruce Mouser, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, discusses his new book, For Labor, Race, and Liberty: George Edwin Taylor, His Historic Run for the White House, and the Making of Independent Black Politics which describes his efforts to chronicle the life of the first African American to run for the Presidency of the United States.
In 1968, I accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse. I was the new historian of Africa and some of my colleagues thought it reasonable to expect that I would teach African American history as well. That didnt happen but they persistently provided me information about La Crosse’s early black settlers that they had discovered in their own research. Yet I also knew that writing about a local topic, which some in my department equated with local history or antiquarianism, would not help my chances for promotion. I collected evidence nonetheless and eventually an outline, at least as it related to the La Crosse region, began to take form. I started to think that local black history could be reconstructed. By the 1980s, promotion was no longer a concern, but the problem of finding a venue for publication remained.
That situation changed in mid 2008 when it seemed that a black person might actually become the presidential candidate of a major party. That event surprised me as much as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, or the end of Apartheid in South Africa. But I also was surprised for another reason. In the course of my study of black La Crosse, I had come upon the story of George Edwin Taylor, a local newspaper owner and editor, graduate of Wayland University, leader in the Wisconsin Union Labor Party, and in 1904 candidate for president of the United States. Most remarkable, Taylor was African American. I had followed Taylors career in La Crosse, but once he left Wisconsin for Iowa, I abandoned my research on him. The topic still intrigued me and Barack Obama’s election as