READ John Waller’s Extraordinary Journey From Slavery To Self-Taught Lawyer

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Like many other enslaved African Americans in the 1800s, John Waller’s life was spent serving their owners and breaking their backs on plantations.

However, his fate was altered when he and his parents were rescued by a Union infantry regiment in 1862. Following their release, the family moved to Iowa, where the regiment was stationed. Waller piqued the interest of an Iowa farmer, who hired him. According to BlackPast, the farmer gave him the opportunity to attend school for four years.

In Toledo, Iowa, he completed high school. However, due to a family epidemic, he was unable to attend college.

When he moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1874, he met Judge N.M. Hubbard. He was able to improve his legal knowledge by reading legal documents and judgments in the judge’s library. In 1877, he was admitted to the Iowa bar.

He moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, to begin his legal career. Local whites preferred the services of white attorneys, while blacks questioned his qualifications. His dexterity and skill in carrying out his duties gradually warmed the hearts of the natives.


As his influence in the legal profession grew, he shifted his focus to politics. Because of his oratory skills, the Leavenworth Republicans chose him in 1884 to campaign for them in eastern Kansas as an endorsement of the Republican ticket.

Three years later, Waller received his first political appointment. He was appointed deputy city attorney in Topeka, Kansas. Following his appointment, he wrote editorials for the Colored Citizen in Lawrence. During the 1888 presidential election, Waller was the only African American elected to the Electoral College. He voted for future President Benjamin Harrison.

In 1890, he hoped to become Kansas’ state auditor, but he was unsuccessful. Over time, he became concerned about the limited opportunities for African Americans to advance beyond local elective office.

Despite this, he remained a Republican Party supporter. President Harrison appointed him as the United States consul to Madagascar in 1891, when the island was still underdeveloped and ruled by a monarchy.

When Waller’s term as governor ended in 1894, he persuaded the monarchy to give him 15,000 acres of land for African-American settlement. The French, who had colonial aspirations on the island at the time, saw this activity as a threat to their plans. The French arrested him on suspicion of leaking sensitive military information to Madagascar’s indigenous people.

In 1894, he was tried in a French colonial court and sentenced to prison in Marseille. He avoided a 20-year prison sentence thanks to President Grover Cleveland’s intervention in 1895.

His arrest sparked a political uproar known as the Waller Affair. In 1898, he returned to the United States as an officer with the 23rd Kansas Volunteers to fight in the Spanish American War.

He retired from public life in 1900 and moved to New York City with his family. He died in Yonkers, New York, in October 1907, as a result of a pneumonia attack.

Waller was born on a plantation in New Madrid County, Missouri, to slave parents Anthony and Maria Waller. The year of his birth is unknown, but some official documents place him in 1851.



Written by How Africa News

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