First African American Kansas state legislator. Born: 1843 Loudoun County, Virginia. Married: Sallie. Died: March 15, 1916, Chautauqua County, Kansas.
Not surprisingly, African Americans fleeing an oppressive situation in the former Confederacy did not find in Kansas a color-blind, egalitarian society. They did, however, find a much greater measure of freedom, and many of these men and women struggled, overcame, and helped create a better life for themselves, their families, and their fellow Kansans--regardless of color. One such black Kansan was Alfred Fairfax, the state's first African American legislator.
Born a slave in Loudon County, Virginia, Fairfax reportedly was sold after a foiled escape attempt and removed to Louisiana just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1862 he escaped from bondage, joined the Union army, and subsequently learned to read with assistance from "an orderly sergeant."
Fairfax became quite influential in the local and state Republican Party during Reconstruction, holding several elective and appointive positions, and receiving a congressional nomination. But, as Southern "redeemers" increasingly tightened their grip on the state, reestablishing white control of the post-Reconstruction South, Fairfax looked north and west for a land in which he might better his condition.
Like many thousands of his fellow "freedmen," the Rev Fairfax chose Kansas, a symbol of hope for many of these political and economic refugees. When Fairfax made his move into the "promised land" in 1880, he took 200 families with him, most of whom located in Chautauqua County. There, Fairfax obtained a 200-acre farm, raised cotton, among other farm products, operated his own cotton gin (the "Fairfax Ginning Company"), and took on the pastorate of the New Hope Baptist Church in Parsons.
Because of the great Exodus and their naturally affinity for the party of Lincoln, during the 1880s a number of black Kansans, including Alfred Fairfax, were nominated for and elected or appointed to public offices. Fairfax achieved political distinction in 1888 when his Chautauqua County neighbors chose him to represent them in the state legislature. Although few details regarding his single term are known, Representative Fairfax served as chairman of the House Committee on Immigration, received praise from the white and black press, and made "eloquent" pleas for fairness and equality of opportunity. All he asked was that "the sins committed by the enslavers of ... [the Negro] race be not forever charged against him and," Fairfax opined, "that the great state of Kansas, the glorious leader of every reform, shall not take a backward step by continuing to legalize distinction and discrimination against a loyal, brave and true race even though their faces be dark."
Entry: Fairfax, Alfred
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 1969
Date Modified: January 2014
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