Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Where Detroit's History Endures
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D. Augustus Straker

D Augustus StrakerD. Augustus Straker (1840-1908)

David Augustus Straker, author, lawyer, and politician, was born and raised in Bridgetown, Barbados, where he achieved success as a teacher and principal at St. Mary’s Public School.  In 1868 he moved to Kentucky, where he taught at a freedman’s school for one year.  

He entered Howard University in 1869 and graduated two years later with a law degree.  Straker returned to Kentucky but when he was unable to find work as a lawyer, he took a position as a postal clerk.  During this time he married Annie M. Carey and authored numerous editorials for Frederick Douglass’ New National Era, gaining him national exposure.  In 1875 he resigned his postal position to join a law firm in Charleston, South Carolina.   

A staunch Republican, Straker was first elected to public office in November, 1876 as the Orangeburg County Representative in the state legislature.  Redeemer Democrats, however, refused to seat him and his fellow Republicans the following year.  Undeterred, Straker continued to run for office and was reelected by the citizens of Orangeburg County in 1878 and 1880 even as the Democrats continued to deny him his seat in the legislature.  In protest, Straker and law partner Robert Brown Elliot, a former South Carolina Congressman, led a black delegation to Washington, D.C. to meet with President James A. Garfield about the political discrimination and voting irregularities under South Carolina Democrats.  Although Garfield was assassinated before he could respond to their protests, Straker earned a national reputation as a fearless civil rights leader.  

He waged one more campaign for office in South Carolina, an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 1884.  After that defeat and in response to growing racial animosity in the state, Straker moved to Detroit in 1887.  After opening his Detroit office, Straker began lecturing on racial politics in the “New South.”  Though notable for exposing the deplorable antics of Southern Democrats, he also became involved in the local struggle for civil rights.  In 1890 he successfully argued a civil rights case, Ferguson v. Gies before the Michigan Supreme Court.  The Ferguson decision outlawed separation by race in public places and was often later cited in subsequent cases challenging Jim Crow legislation.  After his victory Straker forged alliances with some of the most ardent supporters of civil rights for African Americans, including W. E. B. Du Bois.  He was elected as a judge in Wayne County, Michigan in 1893, and served as the founding president for the National Federation of Colored Men in 1895.  Straker also authored five books including the influential The New South Investigated (1888), which forcefully exposed the racist policies of the Redeemer Democrats who overthrew Reconstruction a decade earlier.   

David Augustus Straker died of pneumonia at the age of 66 on February 14, 1908.  He is buried in Section S, Lot 10.

The D. Augustus Straker Bar Association was founded in 1990 by a group of African American attorneys in Oakland County with a mission to increase minority representation in the legal profession, support and encourage legal practice opportunities for minorities, and facilitate equal justice for underserved members of the Metro Detroit community.  Its’ Trailblazers Award recognizes pioneers in the legal community based upon their continuous individual contributions to the betterment of the legal profession.   The D. Augustus Straker Bar Association also awards several scholarships to law students and provides networking and advertising opportunities in the underserved legal community.