Congressman Oscar de Priest

Image of Congressman Oscar de Priest, oil painting, Bernard Goss, 1963
by Bernard Goss, oil painting, 1963

“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?”*
This is a portrait of Congressman Oscar de Priest (1871-1951), an outspoken critic of the segregation of minorities in government. De Priest was not the first African American to serve in congress, but he was the first in the 20th century and the single minority voice for three decades. De Priest understood that he represented not only his Chicago district but the entire black population of the United States. 
Oscar de Priest was the son of former slaves in Alabama. His family moved to Kansas in 1878 where he eventually attended college. He moved to Chicago and started a successful real estate firm catering to the influx of African Americans to Chicago during the period known as The Great Migration. De Priest served as Chicago’s first black alderman from 1915 to1917.
Artist Bernard Goss was an important member of the African American artistic community of Chicago. Goss and his wife, Margaret Burroughs, were founders of the Southside Community Art Center, an important Federal Art Project-funded arts center that opened in 1941. This painting was commissioned for an exhibition celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. It was entitled ‘A Century of Negro Progress’ and was held at McCormick Place in Chicago in 1963.  
*Congressional Record, House, 73rd Cong., 2nd sess. (21 March 1934): 5047–5048

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