Date of Award

Fall 12-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Urban Studies


School of Urban and Regional Studies

Major Professor

Drs. Mary Niall Mitchell & Michael Mizell-Nelson

Second Advisor

Dr. Louis Crust

Third Advisor

Dr. Alvin Mitchell


The study of African American Reconstruction leadership has presented a variety of unique challenges for modern historians who struggle to piece together the lives of men, who prior to the Civil War, had little political identity. The scant amounts of primary source data in regard to these leaders’ lives before the war, the destruction of many documents in regard to their leadership following the Reconstruction Era, and the treatment of these figures by historians prior to the Revisionist movement have left this body of extremely important political figures largely unexplored. This dissertation will examine the life of one of Louisiana’s foremost leaders, Lt. Governor Oscar James Dunn, the United States’ first African American executive officeholder.

Using previously overlooked papers, Masonic records, Senate journals, newspaper articles and government documents, the dissertation explores Dunn’s role in Louisiana politics and chronicles the factionalization of the Republican Party in Reconstruction New Orleans. Born a slave and released from bondage at an early age, Oscar J. Dunn was able to transcend the stigma which was often attached to those who had been held in slavery. A native of New Orleans, born to Anglo-African parents, he was also able to transcend the language barrier that often excluded Anglo-Africans from social acceptability in Afro-Creole society. Although illiterate, Dunn’s parents made critical strides in securing his social mobility by providing him with both a formal education and a trade apprenticeship. Those skills propelled Dunn forward within his Anglo-African community wherein he became a key figure in the community’s two most important institutions, the York Rite Masonic Lodge and the African Methodist Episcopal church.

This dissertation argues that Dunn’s political ascent was linked to the political enfranchisement of antebellum Anglo-Africans in Louisiana, Dunn’s involvement in Anglo-African institutions (particularly the York Rite Masonic Lodge and the African Methodist Episcopal church) and Dunn’s ability to find middle ground in the racially charged arguments that engulfed Reconstruction New Orleans’s political arena.


Oscar Dunn, Reconstruction, New Orleans, Republican, Louisiana, African American, Politics


The University of New Orleans and its agents retain the non-exclusive license to archive and make accessible this dissertation or thesis in whole or in part in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis or dissertation.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.