African American Mayoral Candidates
News accounts of the death of Eugene Parks noted that he was the first African American to seek the office of mayor in Madison. Parks was not, however, the first African American to appear on the ballot as a mayoral candidate. That honor goes to William H. Noland, who was nominated against his wish in 1866.
Noland was “the distinguished professor, the accomplished barber, the experienced hominy manufacturer, the retailer of fish, the polite manager of the Rainbow Ice Cream Saloon, the versatile and world-renowned inventor of the Tricopherous and the Capitiluvium.” The latter two items were hair tonics; according to an 1855 testimonial in the Wisconsin State Journal by A. Ogden “my hair is now its original color, it has a soft and glossy appearance, and I can now boast of having as fine a feeling head of hair as any young man in Madison.” The testimonial was endorsed by future mayors Jairus Fairchild and Elisha Keyes, former governor Leonard Farwell, the editors of the Wisconsin State Journal and Argus & Democrat, Secretary of State Alex Gray, and Governor William Barstow.
Noland was also known for clothes-cleaning, corn-doctoring, and playing in a string band. A free mulatto who came to Madison from New York in the 1850s, he was “an estimable and useful personage in this city, who has a dash of African blood in his veins. His color was a light mahogany, and he was a public-spirited individual, taking great interest in politics and general affairs.” He, his wife, and children Laura, Anastasia and William S., were the first permanent African Americans to settle in Madison. His sons Frank and Charles were the first African American children born here.
He was appointed notary public in 1857 by Governor Coles Bashford, though he never served since Secretary of State David W. Jones, a recent immigrant from Wales, refused to accept his bond specifically because he was African American (though Jones used a less politically correct term in referring to Noland’s race).
Noland refused to serve one of his regular customers after learning he had assisted in the capture of the fugitive slave Joshua Glover. In April 1861 Noland wrote Governor Alexander Randall offering to raise a company of blacks to serve in the Union army, but Randall turned down the proposal.
On March 30, 1866, Simeon Mills was nominated by the Democrats to run against popular incumbent mayor Elisha Keyes in the April 3rd election. On March 31 Mills declined. About 3 p.m. on April 2 a dozen individuals took hold of Noland and conveyed him to the office of Mr. Hyer, editor of the Madison Democrat newspaper. Hyer attempted to talk Noland into becoming a candidate for mayor, but Noland refused. The Democrats circulated ballots with Noland’s name anyway.
On election day Noland published a stirring denouncement of the Democrats and their tactics in the Wisconsin State Journal: “The tickets bearing my name are, as far as I can learn, being circulated by Democrats and voted by Democrats. Perhaps they intend to compliment me by these votes, but when I consider the antecedents of the Democratic party, and its recreancy to freedom, and its infidelity to the Union when assailed by treason, and its invariable and malignant hostility to conceding any rights, except the right to labor under the task master’s whip, to my people, I cannot feel complimented by such votes. While I can understand their unfortunate plight in not being able to find a man willing to head their ticket, they ought not to expect me, or any man of my color, to soil his fair fame, and his new birth into the rights of citizenship, by voluntarily lending himself to their purpose. In conclusion permit me to say that I am a Union man, and have today voted the straight Union ticket. If any Democrat wishes to compliment me, let him do likewise.”
Elisha Keyes won reelection by a vote of 691 to 306. The Wisconsin State Journal reported that “the votes for Noland for mayor yesterday were cast exclusively by Democrats.”Mark Gajewski