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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Freetown Village Black History Moment: Frank R. Beckwith first Black person to run for president in a major political party

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Indianapolis Attorney Frank Roscoe Beckwith was the first Black person to run in a major political party for president of the United States. He ran on the Republican primary ticket in 1960 against Richard Nixon and other Republicans, including two governors and a senator. 

At a time when Blacks were more likely to be Democrat, Beckwith received nearly 20,000 votes, about one-third of 1 percent of the Republican votes cast in the primary race. Beckwith ran for president a second time in 1964 but lost to Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.

In a radio interview, Beckwith said that he never expected to be elected. He wanted to demonstrate that a member of his race could exercise the political privilege of running for the office of U.S. president.        

Beckwith made many other outstanding contributions. It was Beckwith who authored and lobbied for a law requiring free transportation for Indiana children who had to attend public schools outside of their home school districts.  Beckwith himself graduated from Indianapolis Public Schools.

Throughout the ‘40s, he focused on civil rights and is credited with opening the state’s high school basketball tournament to Black schools and getting Blacks hired at Marion County General Hospital, now known as Eskenazi Hospital.      

He also fought to increase hiring of African American police officers, led efforts to construct a new community building at Douglass Park in 1943 and fought to maintain Lockefield Gardens as affordable housing for low income residents.

He was a public defender from 1951 to 1958 and a judge. A park formerly known as Salem Village Park, located between the Boys and Girls Club and a public housing complex on East 30th Street, was renamed for Beckwith in 1970.  Beckwith died in 1965.

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