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Historical Highlights

Representative Oscar De Priest of Illinois and the Members’ Dining Room

January 24, 1934
Representative Oscar De Priest of Illinois and the Members’ Dining Room Image courtesy of Library of Congress The first African American elected to Congress during the 20th Century, Oscar De Priest became a symbol of hope for blacks across the nation.
On this date, Representative Oscar De Priest of Illinois introduced a resolution to end Jim Crow discrimination in the House Restaurant. Elected in 1928, De Priest became the first African American elected to Congress during the 20th century and the first to represent a northern state. As a national symbol for blacks, he utilized his position in the House to draw attention to racial discrimination. “If we allow segregation and the denial of constitutional rights under the Dome of the Capitol, where in God’s name will we get them?” De Priest asked his congressional colleagues while challenging the House Restaurant’s refusal to serve an African-American member of his staff. The Illinois Congressman succeeded in bringing to the House Floor a measure to investigate the incident. By employing a rare parliamentary procedure, De Priest circumvented the influential Rules Committee—the panel that controls the flow of legislation in the House, and chaired, at the time, by a southern Democrat. Although the House eventually voted in favor of De Priest’s resolution, the investigatory panel split along party lines and refused to recommend any revisions to House Restaurant policies.

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