William Beckett

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The first Black man to run for public office in Prince George’s County, Md.

*Minor edits made since the initial printing of this profile in the mid-1980s. bpf

On March 30th, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment became a part of the United States Constitution. The Fifteenth Amendment provided that: “the rights of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The ratification of the 15th Amendment made is possible for black men to exercise their right to vote as citizens. All over the state of Maryland, black men registered to vote in the Republican Party. That year in Prince George’s County, William Beckett entered his name as a candidate in a local election.

William Beckett was a black man. He lived and worked as a miler in the town of Bladensburg. In 1870, Beckett was married to Catherine, a 40-year-old black woman. Beckett was 36 years old. The Becketts had three children in 1870: Matilda, age 18; Josephine, age 14; and John, age 5.

The Freedmen in Bladensburg were active in the local area’s Republican Party. On June 10, 1870, the Prince Georgian, a local newspaper, reported the election results for the Bladensburg Town Commission. William Beckett ran for a seat on the Bladensburg Town Commission. Beckett, a Republican candidate, shared the ticket with E. P. Godman, Andrew Foulke, C.H. Lawrence, and Andrew Lowe. The Republican ticket was opposed by the Citizens ticket of the Democratic Party. The candidates on the Citizens Ticket were Harrison Wallis, Charles O. Wells, Charles Lewis, George Goldenstroth, and Charles Parker.

According to the article, the Citizen’s ticket was composed of four Democrats and one Republican. Of all the candidates, Republican and Democrat, Beckett was the only black man.

The Democratic Citizens won the election. Of the votes cast for the Republicans, William Beckett received thirty-one votes. Twenty-five black men voted in that election. William Beckett was the first Black man to run for public office in Prince George’s County.


1870 Federal Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, 2nd Election District, Town of Bladensburg

The Prince Georgian, June 10, 1870, “Bladensburg Election”