Pierre Caliste Landry: The First African-American Mayor
Pierre Caliste Landry was a former slave who became one of the most prominent and notable African Americans in US history. Among his remarkable feats includes his election into mayorship in the city of Donaldsonville, Louisiana, which made him the first Black American to ever attain that position. Aside from politics, he was very active in education, and ensured that his descendants continued to promote Black education long after his death in 1921.
Early Years: Birth, Slavery & Freedom
Landry was born in April 1841 in Louisiana. His mother Marcelite was an enslaved cook who worked on a sugarcane plantation in Ascension Parish. His father Roseman, on the other hand, was a white worker thus making him mixed race.
In his early childhood, he lived with a man named Pierre Bouissac and his wife Zaides who were both freed slaves. During that time, Landry attended school with other children of formerly enslaved people. But when he was 13 years old, he was sold to the Bringier family for around $1,665 and was sent to work at Houmas Plantation.
The Bringiers was a wealthy family that owned many properties, including several acres of land. While living and working as a slave for the Bringiers, Landry had the opportunity to attend school on the plantation and lived inside the family’s home. Eventually, he received a promotion, rising to superintendent of the yard.
With this new position came some bit of privileges such as being able to enter into business with the family’s head butler. They opened a store together where they sold snacks and other knick knacks. In 1862, he also became an apprentice to the plantation’s carpenter and machinist.
The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, was passed in 1865, making Landry a free man. The following year, he changed his name from Caliste to Pierre.
He then moved from the plantation and settled in Donaldsonville, which had once been the capital of the U.S. state of Louisiana. Now a free man, Landry opened up schools for children, started a business, and became the first free man in his community to build and own a home.
Landry showed dedication and commitment to his community in Donaldsonville; so it came as no surprise when he was elected mayor of Donaldsonville in 1868. His appointment made him the first ever African American mayor in the history of the United States.
Though he served for just one term, he went on to have an illustrious career in US politics, working in the capacities of Justice of the Peace, member of the Ascension Parish School Board, President of the Police Jury, and Tax Collector.
In 1872, then-U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant made Landry postmaster of Donaldsonville. He was also elected to Louisiana’s House of Representatives.
Landry is credited with making huge contributions towards education sector in Donaldsonville. Aside from building schools for the children of freed slaves and serving on educational boards, he contributed to the establishment of New Orleans University, which became the third African American institution of higher learning. He was able to do so thanks to his influence in the Republic Party.
He was praised many times for the many years he poured into the improvement of education in the state.
In 1874, Landry became a State Senator, a position which he held for one term. Five years later, he represented Donaldsonville at the State Constitutional Convention.
Later, he converted from Catholicism and became a member of the Methodist church. He became a pastor in 1878 and was responsible for the creation of nine more parishes across Louisiana. Landry served in the church for about 50 years. He was the founder of St Peter’s Methodist Episcopal Church.
African-American mayors in the United States
Pierre Caliste Landry is the first African American to be elected mayor. The emphasis here is on the word elected. However, he was not the first African American to serve as mayor.
A year prior to Landry’s election, an African American politician by the name of Monroe Baker was appointed by Louisiana governor Benjamin Flanders (1816-1896) to serve as mayor of St. Martinville, the parish seat of St. Martin Parish, Louisiana. Baker’s appointment came after the death of Mayor Pierre Gary. The St. Mary Parish, Louisiana-born businessman went on to serve for about one year.
Landry’s first marriage was to Amanda Grisby in 1867. They had 12 children together. Sadly, Amanda died and he married his second wife Florence Simpkins. Landry and Florence had 2 children, bringing the number of his children to 14.
He ensured that all of his children attended university. Many of them became prominent educators and one of his sons, Lord Beaconsfield Landry, who was a physician, had a school in the Algiers section of New Orleans named after him.
In December 1921, Landry passed away. At that time, he was living in Algiers, New Orleans and was 80 years old. Many prominent figures in the black community attended his funeral.
Who is Pierre Caliste Landry?
Born: April 19, 1841
Died: April 22, 1921
Parents: Marcelite Prevost and Roseman Landry
- Amanda Grigsby
- Florence Simpkins
- Newspaper editor