Green, John Patterson

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John Patterson Green


At a time when blacks in the North were unable to provide a population base to support an African American political candidate or to provide a voting block to draw attention to their community's issues, John Patterson Green became the first African American elected to the Ohio Senate. His success was preceded by his appointment to other governmental positions such as justice of the peace and state representative and followed by appointments as U.S. postage stamp agent and acting superintendent of finance for the Post Office Department. As a successful lawyer and loyal Republican, Green was able to enter the Ohio political system. Tempered by cautiousness and conservatism, he never criticized Republican leaders on civil rights issues or the increasing tide of racism in the post-Reconstruction Era. In some ways, Green's role in Ohio politics may show a racial liberalism by white voters, but his approach toward accommodation, as defined by Booker T. Washington, let many whites escape being accountable for equal rights among and protection of all citizens.

John Patterson Green was born April 2, 1845 in Newbern, North Carolina, to John R. and Temperance Green, free blacks with mixed ancestry. Green's fraternal grandfather was John Stanley, a Yankee privateer during the Revolutionary War, and his grandmother was Sarah Rice, an African and servant to North Carolina representative Jesse Speight. Green's father was a tailor and his mother was a seamstress. Many free blacks learned a trade through an apprenticeship at an early age, to assure their ability to take care of themselves and their families. When Green was five, his father died, which left the care of Green and his two siblings to his mother. Initially, using her skill as a seamstress, she was able to maintain the family in North Carolina, but in 1857 she moved the family to Cleveland, Ohio. First, Green attended a private school for free blacks run by John Stuart Stanley in North Carolina. After arriving in Cleveland, Green was sent to Oberlin, Ohio to learn a trade and live at the home of John Patterson, a bricklayer and plasterer. He subsequently was apprenticed to John Scott, a harness maker. When this did not work out, Green returned to Cleveland. There he spent a year and a half in the Mayflower School before leaving in 1859 because of family financial difficulties. In order to assist his mother, Green took on various jobs: he caned chairs, did odd jobs, and hired himself out as an errand-boy for $4 a month. In 1862 he found employment at the East Cleveland Street Railway, and he also tried his hand as a tailor and as a waiter.

Green realized the importance of education and continued his studies on his own. He was learned independently about Latin and algebra. To earn money for his education, Green wrote the 1866 pamphlet Essays on Miscellaneous Subjects by a Self-Educated Colored Youth. As a result of spending a year doing lecture tours and promoting the essays, Green sold more than 1,500 copies in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, New York, and the District of Columbia. He subsequently enrolled in Cleveland Central High School and completed a four-year classical program in two years, two terms and two months. He graduated from Cleveland Central High School in 1869 at the head of his class of twenty-three students, married Annie Walker, and enrolled in Cleveland's Union Law School. Green graduated in 1870, receiving his LL.B and he and his wife started a new life in North Carolina.

Green was only in North Carolina for a short time, however. He worked as a clerk in a local grocery store and then moved to South Carolina to run his own grocery business. In South Carolina in 1870 Green was admitted to the bar and began a lifelong relationship with the Republican Party. This relationship made it possible for him to be elected in 1872 as a delegate to the State Republican Convention in South Carolina and as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. In the fall of 1872 Green decided to return to Cleveland because of health reasons. He became a practicing attorney and began a lecture tour. In the spring of 1873 he was elected as justice of the peace in Cuyahoga County. This position, which had both judicial and police power, made Green one of the first elected African Americans in the North. Green served three terms and in those eight years decided more than 12,000 cases. He was very popular with both black and white voters and was nominated in 1877 to the Ohio House of Representatives. Initially he was elected by a sixty-two vote margin but after a recount his Democratic opponent was elected. Green unsuccessfully claimed that the recount was fraudulent and that he had won the election.


Born in Newbern, North Carolina on April 2
Moves to Cleveland after the death of his father
Publishes book Miscellaneous Subjects by a Self-Educated Colored Youth
Graduates from Central High School in Cleveland; marries Annie Walker
Graduates Union Law School in Cleveland; moves to North Carolina
Elected as justice of the peace; elected as delegate to the state Republican Convention
Elected to the Ohio House of Representatives
Re-elected to the Ohio House of Representatives
Elected to the Ohio Senate
Sponsors Labor Day legislation for the state
Appointed U.S. postage stamp agent
Named acting superintendent of finance for the Post Office Department
Marries Lottie Mitchell Richardson
Publishes autobiography
Dies in Cleveland, Ohio on August 30

In 1881 Green was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. He served during the 65th session (1882–13) and was on the library and corporation committees. While in the House, Green presented a resolution condemning the contract-labor system in the Ohio penitentiary system. When it came time for reelection in 1884, Green was defeated, but he was called to serve as an alternate delegate-at-large for the Republican National Convention in Chicago. While attending the convention he shared the platform at one point with Frederick Douglass. Green continued practicing law and as a loyal Republican gave speeches and spoke on behalf of party candidates. In 1890 Green again secured a nomination for the Ohio House of Representatives and was elected by a wide margin. He served during the 69th session (1890–91). During this term he was on the turnpike committee and supported legislation on behalf of civil rights and veterans benefits.

Green developed relationships with influential Republican leaders and prominent persons of the day, including John D. Rockefeller; Marcus Hanna, a national Republican leader; and George A. Myers, a barber and confident of Hanna as well as the most influential African American in Ohio Republican politics. Bolstered by his powerful connections and the racial liberalism of white Clevelanders, Green became the first African American to be nominated for a seat in the Ohio Senate. He was elected from a majority white district and became the only African American from the North to be elected to a state senate before World War I. While he served in the 70th session (1892–93) of the Ohio Senate General Assembly, Green contributed to the sponsorship of legislation which established Labor Day as a holiday in Ohio in 1893. When the Ohio legislation was used as a model for Congress in making Labor Day a national holiday, Green became known as the Father of Labor Day. He also secured funding for an Industrial Department at Wilber-force University.

When Green's term in the state senate ended, he continued his law practice and traveled extensively in Europe. He spoke throughout Ohio for Republican Party candidates and wrote articles for the Afro-American News Syndicate which supplied over two hundred papers. He again served as the delegate-at-large for the Republican Party at the 1896 National Convention and was among those considered for the appointment as the recorder of deeds. In 1897 he was chosen to be U.S. postage stamp agent in the District of Columbia. Green retained this position, which entailed the supervision of the printing and distributing of postage stamps for the nation, until 1905. His final governmental position was in 1905 as the acting superintendent of finance for the Post Office Department. After a year in this position he again returned to his Cleveland law practice.

A Loyal Republican

In the decades following the Civil War, there were African American groups in the community designed to perpetuate a particular social status. Such community affiliations reflected members' philosophy. Green was an influential member of one of the community's elite groups, the Social Circle. Membership in this organization, which dated back to 1869, consisted of light-skinned, old-Negro elite, who for many years refused to associate with darker-skinned, less-educated people. The old elite, of which Green was a key member, sought to emulate the lifestyle of the affluent white middle class. Green was also a member and co-founder of St. Andrews Episcopal Church, one of Cleveland's wealthiest African American congregations. From this prominent position in the community and in the Republican Party, Green could have been an important voice toward equality for African Americans. Instead, Green stood for accommodation and extreme caution. His philosophy rejected militant protest, which he considered unnecessary.

Kenneth Kusmer in A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1879–1930 (1976) assesses Green's political career. Kusmer describes Green as a person who did not disturb the status quo, a man who was loyal to the Republican Party leadership. To an audience in 1890, Green declared that Negroes were ostracized not because of the color of their skin but because they were poor. He saw success for the Negro through acquiring wealth, which in turn would bring power and status. As a lawyer Green defended those who were victimized by racism, but he did not challenge it in his political career. Green had a wide network of political and social contacts with important whites, which reflected local white liberalism. But his success was also connected to his benign and often silent response to growing problems of racial inequality.

In 1912 after the death of his first wife, Green married Lottie Mitchell Richardson who became the mother of his six children. In his later years Green continued to practice law and speak in support of the Republican Party and its candidates. When African Americans switched to the Democratic Party in 1936 to have more of their issues addressed, Green remained steadfast with the Republican Party. At the time of his death on August 30, 1940, when he was struck by an automobile, Green was the oldest practicing lawyer in Ohio.



Kusmer, Kenneth L. "Green, John Patterson." In American National Biography. Vol. 9. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

――――――. A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1879–1930. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1976.

Levstik, Frank R. "John Patterson Green." In Dictionary of American Negro Biography. Eds. Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston. New York: Norton, 1982.

Nichols, J. L., and William H. Crogman. Progress of a Race. Naperville, Ill.: J. L. Nichols & Company, 1929.

Williams, George W. History of the Negro Race in America from 1619–1880. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1883.


"Documenting the American South." Fact Stranger than Fiction. Seventy-Five Years of a Busy Life and Reminiscences of Many Great and Good Men and Women. (Accessed 4 February 2006).


Green's papers are located in the Western Reserve Historical Society. His correspondence with George A. Meyers, a prominent black Clevelander, are in Meyers's papers, which are housed in the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus, Ohio. His upbringing, family life, and political career are discussed in his book Recollections of the Carolinas, 1881.

                                        Lean'tin L. Bracks