Death of Noted Colored

David Strother of El Paso

The First Colored Voter In The United States Has Passed Away

Bloomington Pantagragh, March 14, 1905

David A. Strother - buried at Evergreen Cemetery, El Paso, Woodford County, Illinois


Monday morning our citizens were shocked to learn that David A. Strother had suddenly died the night before, a pioneer and most exemplary citizen of El Paso being thus taken from the community in which he had so long been a highly respected character. Saturday night he was at his barber shop under the First National bank, going home at the customary late hour. Sunday he was down, as usual, to attend to the furnace of the steam boiler which heats the building. Sunday evening he was down again to bank the fires for the night and on his way home stopped to visit a moment with George Green, the colored hostler at Dr. Langhorst's barn, and whose wife and step-daughter kept house for Mr. Strother. This was about 9:30 o'clock. Mr. Green says Dave seemed to be in his usual robust good health and conducted himself in his wonted jolly and good natured manner.

From the barn he went home and soon retired. At about 11 o'clock Mrs. Green, the housekeeper, heard Dave coughing and gasping for breath. He had risen from his bed and was at the door. Mrs. Green asked him what the matter was and he replied that he did not know, but thought he was dying. She offered him a glass of water but he refused to drink and sat down on the couch in the dining room. Becoming alarmed she called her daughter from another room, and then ran over to W.H. Firzerald's across the street for assistance. On her returning to the stricken man's side she found him to be dead. Mr. Fitzgerald was quickly there and feeling the wrists found the pulse had ceased. In the meantime Dr. Langhorst had been called, and in his testimony to the coroner's jury stated that he found Mr. Strother in a half recumbent position on the couch, foam and water coming from his nose. He was apparently lifeless and on close examination he found him dead. There were no marks to show any violence and his face showed no symptoms of suffering. Nothing to indicate hemorrhage or apoplexy. The doctor's diagnosis was heart failure due to the fatty condition of that organ.

Monday afternoon Coroner Davison came down from Minonk and impaneled a jury consisting of G.W. Horner, H.J. Tegtmyer, J.R. Sweet, Lewis Kippebrock, O.J. Lemon and William Lang. After questioning Mrs. Green and her daughter, W.H. Fitzgerald and Dr. Longhorst, the jury rendered the verdict "heart failure."

The funeral was held from his residence Tuesday afternoon at 3 o'clock, Rev. Shoop, of the Methodist church officiating, with Rev. Stephan, of the United Evangelical Church assisting. While Mr. Strother was not enrolled with the membership of any church he was in frequent attendance at services, usually with the Methodist brethren. Had it not been that the churches were closed by the health board last week the funeral would no doubt have been held from the Methodist church, in which case the building would have been crowded, not from idle curiosity, but rather as an expression of the esteem in which this humble colored gentleman was held by all. The rooms were entirely filled, many being unable to get in. The pastor took for his lesson Job 26:12-28, the last verse, "and unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding." being used to emphasize the reputation which Mr. Strother sustained and enjoyed for uprightness and probity in all his walks of life. The singers were Mrs. J.A. Thorpe, Miss Alice Forsyth, Ellis Dye and Frank Bingner. The pall bearers were J.R. Sweet, O.J. Lemon, W.E. Tarman, John Loyster, William Thorpe and Levi Stumbaugh. After the services the remains were laid in Mr. Strother's lot in our cemetery where lie his mother, his brother and his wife. Attending the funeral were Mrs. Julia May Gibson of Peoria, formerly Miss Julia Lindsey, who in her young girlhood often visited the Strothers here; James Cheek of Eureka, Dave's cousin and nearest relative; Louis Cheek, Eureka, son of James Cheek; Mrs. Anna Baker, Eureka; Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Nelson, Mrs. Wm. Piper, Mrs. Rose Ford and Daniel Deess of Minonk.

Of the life of David A. Strother much has been published in these columns during the past few years, but the subject is of sufficient interest to warrant a repetition. He was born in Lexington, Mo., August 18, 1843 of parents who were slaves at one time but who had then been free for several years, each having purchased freedom from their former owners. Mrs. Strother gave fifty dollars in cash and for several years contributed to the education of a daughter of her former mistress as the price of her release from bondage. In 1849 the father died and in 1852 the family moved to Peoria. At this time the family consisted of David, a little sister and Charles, a baby brother, Mrs. Strother supported her small brood by washing and working out amongst the wealthy families of Peoria. In his youth Dave was cook's assistant on steamboats plying between Peoria and New Orleans and many is the tale he has told us of the strenuous times when most of the freight and passenger traffic between the north and the south was by water route. When the war broke out David joined Company G., Captain Burgesss' company in the Seventeenth Illinois regiment as cook and served in that capacity all during the early days of the civil strife. The first captain, O.A. Burgess, was a Metamora man, and when he resigned in 1862, Jonathan H. Rowell, then of Eureka, succeeded to the captaincy, being promoted from first lieutenant. The entire company was made up almost entirely of Metamora, Eureka, Gridley, Kappa and Secor men and it was the acquaintances made then that subsequently induced David to come to this county to permanently reside. The little sister died in Peoria just before the mother and her two sons moved to El Paso in January, 1864. David first came here from Bloomington to work in a shop for another man whose name we are now unable to learn. The shop was located where the east side blacksmith shop now is. The proprietor soon decided to leave here and offered to sell the meager furniture and business to David for $30. David told John D. Park, who was then a justice of the peace, of the offer and Mr. Park loaned him the money to make the trade. Only about ten days ago David told the writer of this transaction and a few details connected therewith. The shop was in Park's office. After the first Saturday night's business was over David concluded he would go to Peoria over Sunday to arrange for bringing his mother and brother over. The furniture of the shop consisted mostly of a chair, some razors, one mug and a few soap boxes whereon the patrons could rest whilst awaiting their turn. Carefully hiding the razors and mug Dave went on the Peoria trip. Upon returning the first of the week Dave was confronted with the charge of Mr. Park that he had stolen the barber tools for the purchase of which Park had loaned him the money. Dave indignantly said, " I guess not," and pulling one of the soap boxes away from the wall disclosed the hiding place of the missing property. After this Dave and Park were the best of friends and occupied the room jointly for some time. When Park had a lawsuit on hand David moved his chair to W.R. Willis' office next door, returning after the trial.

David Strother is credited with being the first colored voter in the United States. The XVth amendment was proposed in congress February 17, 1869. Thirteen months later, March 30, 1870, the amendment was proclaimed as a law by the secretary of state. This was on Wednesday. El Paso at that time was organized and conducted its business under a special charter which provided for the election of the municipal officers on the first Monday in April. Four days after the XVth amendment became a law David presented himself before the city election board, being accompanied by Major Wathen and Jacob Fishburn who went through curiosity. Mr. Wathen was the city's mayor. William Neifing, one of the members of the board, refused to allow the colored man's vote to be deposited, stating that if any law existed entitling negroes to vote he didn't know of it. The other members of the board were advised of the law and were willing to receive the ballot. Neifing was not satisfied and Dave went back to his shop. A copy of the law was sent for by the judges and after Neifing had read it he dispatched a messenger for Dave who then returned and voted. His brother, Charles, then just a little over 21 years of age, voted later in the day. Gerah Martin, who was then editing the JOURNAL telegraphed the fact of Dave's voting to the Associated Press and the news was prominently commented upon all over the United States. The next day, Tuesday, April 5, occurred the regular township elections and Dave voted then also. No doubt many other colored men of the state voted at the township election on Tuesday, but the peculiar condition of our city election laws at the time gave Dave the opportunity which permitted him to exercise the right of franchise twenty-four hours before any other member of his race.

David's mother died in 1894, after being totally blind for many years. He repaid her early day struggles that she and her boys might have a home by the tenderest care and thoughtful consideration for her every wish until the day of her death. Charles died, from consumption, in April , 1897. October 14, 1897 David was married to Elizabeth Gaines, who had been keeping house for him and assisting during Charles' illness. She died July 12, 1901, after a lingering illness from consumption. With all whom, he held most dear gone from him, David pursued a quiet, unassuming existence. Finding much comfort amongst the books of his considerable library in which he took great pride. His books were not of the light, trashy sort, but his shelves contained much of the highest class literature, both ancient and modern.

Deceased witnessed all of the important happenings of the community and was well posted on every leading question, nationally as well as locally. He was a ready talker, when encouraged, and the stories he told of the olden times were always interesting and instructive. He was a veritable encyclopedia of information regarding past events and dates, and during the twenty or more years the writer has been engaged in chronicling the comings and goings, the births, the lives and deaths of the community, many are the calls we have made on his fund of bygone memories, and many others he has helped as well. He always had an especial fondness for children, and they for him. Hundreds of men were dandled as happy children on "Nigger Dave's" knee, the down on their cheeks as youths, was first removed by his razor, and finally when they were prepared for their burial it was his hand that performed the last sad service of his profession.

Mr. Strother's characteristic generosity and helpfulness toward others accounts for the fact that he leaves little or no property excepting his household goods, the barber shop furniture, a very fine gold watch, his library and two valuable violins. What little there is left after the funeral expenses are paid will no doubt go to his only known near relative, James Cheek, living in Eureka. Many residents of considerable pretentions have passed away in this city but very few of them with the general regret on the part of the entire public as in the case of this honest, courteous, unassuming, gentlemanly colored man, and if our people see to it that his last resting place is fittingly marked with a shaft of pure white stone it will be no more than is his due. Though dark of skin his heart was white as was ever made.