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From the Ready Reference Quick Fact File:

The First African American Voter in Wisconsin

Joe Oliver was the first African American to vote in Wisconsin. Oliver came to Milwaukee in 1835 and earned his living as a cook. Arriving on the schooner Cincinnati (owned by Milwaukee co-founder Solomon Juneau), Oliver was invited by Juneau to vote in the first Milwaukee city election. Although voting was limited to white males over the age of 21, Joe Oliver cast a legal ballot on September 19, 1835. Although most Wisconsin residents disapproved of slavery, the right of black citizens to vote was widely disputed in the years that followed. In 1849, a majority of Wisconsin voters approved black suffrage but voting rights were consistently denied to African Americans due to legal disputes over what constituted "a majority." With the encouragement of abolitionist Sherman Booth, Ezekiel Gillespie, a leader in Milwaukee's black community, attempted to register to vote in 1865 and was refused. Gillespie took the election inspectors to court, working with attorney Byron Paine. Gillespie's case went quickly to the state Supreme Court which in 1866 voted unanimously in favor of Gillespie and secured the right of African-Americans to vote.


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