Oscar James Dunn


Oscar James Dunn was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1827.  He was the son of a free woman of color, who kept a rooming house for White actors and actresses.  He was reared by his mother and a step-father.  Oscar was given his step-father's last name.  As a youngster, he worked with his step-father who was a stage carpenter.  He learned to play guitar, and the art of public speaking from the actors who lived in his mother's rooming house.  The public speaking would become a powerful advantage when he became a political leader.  In his teens, Oscar became an apprentice plasterer, a brick mason, and he also operated his own employment service.  He was trustworthy and he earned the trust of many in the community.

    In 1863, after Reconstruction began, he was sought out to became a member of the Louisiana Republican Party, and he was elected to its Central Committee.  In 1865, he became a part of the Universal Suffrage Association, and he worked to register all eligible Louisiana Blacks to vote and he encouraged them to exercise that right.  When the Freedmen's Bureau began operation in Louisiana, Dunn was made one of its investigating agents whose job it was to protect the rights of the freedmen.  Dunn also became secretary of the Advisory Committee of the Freedmen's Saving and Trust Company, of New Orleans.  He became a part of several successful business ventures.  In board of aldermen by the Union Army General in command of New Orleans.

    In January 4, 1868, the State Republican party met to nominate candidates for the April 1868, Statewide Elections.  Dr. Louisi Roudanez, owner of the New Orleans Tribune fought to nominate a Black for Governor and on the first ballot Francis Dumas (a Black man) received the most votes, however, on the second ballot Dumas lost by two votes.  Oscar J. Dunn accepted the nomination for the office of Lieutenant Governor, when Dumas declined it.

    In April, Oscar J. Dunn was elected the first Black Lieutenant Governor in Louisiana and the United States.  Lt. Gov. Dunn was a strong and powerful leader for his people and the state.  As President of the Louisiana Senate, and President of the Metropolitan Police Board, Lt. Gov. Dunn commanded much influence in the civic and political community.  His political influence grew rapidly as his leadership with the Legislature and the state and national Republican party.  When the governor became ill for several months, Lt. Gov. Dunn was called upon to serve as acting governor.  During this time he executed his gubernatorial duties so well that a portion of the Democratic press gave his high praise for a job well done.  His honesty and insightful approach to government earned him much praise and respect.  This praise and respect also brought him great opposition from the governor and some other members of his party who were jealous of Lt. Gov. Dunn.

    It was said that Oscar J. Dunn was also being considered for the office of Vice President of the United States.  However, before his first term in office expired Oscar J. Dunn died, on November 22, 1871.  His sudden death brought strong suspicion that Lt. Gov. Dunn was poisoned, but it was never proven.  The newspaper writers and historians of that era said this of Lt. Gov. Dunn, "His greatest asset was his proverbial honesty."  Mr. Dunn was succeeded in office as Lt. Governor by two more Black men during Reconstruction.

Subtle Fact Gallery



This is the drum of Jordan B. Noble, a veteran of four wars, and a Captain of Louisiana Native Guard. This drum was beaten by him at many military and civic parades, including the World's
Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, New Orleans, 1884-1885.


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