Born in New Bern, North Carolina, on June 10, 1840, Edward Richard Dudley, Jr., died in New Bern in 1913.
Among the first African Americans to serve in the North Carolina General Assembly, Dudley was the son of a former slave, Sarah Pasteur. His parents were never married; his father, either a white man or free man of mixed race, may have been named Edward R. Dudley. His mother had been purchased out of slavery by her father, Edmund Pasteur, a free man of color. But because she was not formally emancipated before his death in 1843, Sarah Pasteur and her son were sold back into slavery the same year, becoming the property of R. N. Taylor of New Bern.
Although they never attended school, Dudley and younger brother James were privately educated by his mother. The Dudleys remained in Taylor’s service until Union forces occupied New Bern in early 1862, after the outbreak of the Civil War. During and after the war, Dudley manufactured barrels for turpentine merchants, gradually prospering in his trade. Five years after war’s end, he owned a total of $600 in real estate and $300 in personal property, according to the 1870 U.S. Census. He was also active in Republican politics, elected to the New Bern common council in 1869 and serving as a city marshal and warden of the poor.
During this period, he married his first wife, Caroline E. Calhoon, also of mixed race. They had at least 8 children, including daughters Sarah, Caroline, and Jane. Sarah, born in 1869, graduated from Scotia Seminary; a schoolteacher, she later married Charles C. Pettey, an AME Zion bishop (Gilmore, 11-12).
In August 1870, Edward Dudley was elected—along with fellow black Republican George Willis—to represent Craven County in the N.C. House of Representatives; Dudley’s margin of victory over his Democratic opponent was by 1,650 votes. In December 1870, he and Willis were among 17 black legislators to sign a public defense of Republican Gov. William W. Holden, soon to be impeached by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. In “An Address to the Colored People of North Carolina” (The Sentinel, 30 December 1870), Dudley and his colleagues passionately defended Holden’s use of state militia to protect black citizens during a period of Ku Klux Klan activity characterized as the “Kirk-Holden War.” Holden was removed from office over the dissent of Dudley and his black colleagues (Balanoff, 50-51).
As a rising member of Craven County’s political leadership, Dudley maintained close ties to both the black majority and white minority within his party, supporting white Republican incumbent Congressman Charles R. Thomas over black challengers in 1872. “Is it wisdom for us as colored voters to run a colored man just because he is colored, or a white man just because he is white?” Dudley asked in a letter to the New Bern Daily Times (13 March 1872).
With Dudley’s blessing, Thomas was reelected, after defeating state senator John A. Hyman of Warrenton for the Republican nomination. Dudley himself was reelected to the N.C. House—this time with black Republican Israel B. Abbott— and served in four legislative sessions between 1870 and 1874. During his final session (November 1873 to February 1874), Dudley sponsored an unsuccessful state civil rights bill, seeking to protect the rights of the state’s black citizens. He was also named a justice of the peace.
Although he did not seek reelection to the state House in 1874, Dudley’s political ambitions had not yet ended, although his loyalty to Charles Thomas had waned. Dudley now sought the congressional nomination and touted the civil rights bill for which he had worked and openly declaring Thomas “unfit for the office” (Anderson, 40). Second District Republicans agreed, but instead selected John Hyman as the party’s first black standard-bearer in the “Black Second,” so-called for its predominantly-black population.
Hyman won the 1874 election, becoming North Carolina’s first black congressman, but was defeated for renomination in 1876, after spending most of his term fighting off a contest by his Democratic opponent. Among the few federal patronage appointments Hyman secured was that given to Dudley: a deputy collectorship of internal revenue, a post he held until 1883. Dudley was also appointed as a magistrate in Craven County by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly; in 1880, he again became a justice of the peace in Craven County.
Despite a strong Republican majority, politics in the “Black Second” remained unstable and unpredictable. No incumbent congressman won reelection until the mid-1880s; in 1878, a split within Republican ranks tipped the election to Democrat W. H. Kitchin. Kitchin was in turn defeated in 1880 by former sheriff Orlando Hubbs, nominated at a convention chaired by Dudley. When Hubbs sought renomination in 1882, Dudley again crossed racial lines to support his white ally, but this time without success. Eventual winner James E. O’Hara, Dudley’s rival, took office in 1883 and quickly engineered Dudley’s firing as deputy revenue collector.
After his firing, Dudley protested in vain to the Western Sentinel (8 November 1883), calling O’Hara a “man of notorious record.” The two men had long opposed each other over the issue of temperance—Dudley, a devout AME Zion layman, was a strong temperance advocate, while Roman Catholic O’Hara led the statewide “wet” movement. Dudley and Caroline, in fact, had spent much of 1873 canvassing the state after he was elected president of the State Temperance Convention, but their cherished goal failed; prohibition did not take hold in North Carolina until 1908.
O’Hara easily won reelection in 1884, but in 1886, Dudley took his revenge by editing an anti-O’Hara newspaper, The Republican, during the campaign. He and former Republican legislator Willis D. Pettipher joined the central committee of a bipartisan, biracial coalition seeking to divide up political offices between the parties for pragmatic reasons (Anderson 138). After O’Hara’s renomination, the coalition tacitly supported both of his opponents: Democratic newcomer Furnifold Simmons and Republican independent Israel B. Abbott, Dudley’s onetime colleague in the state House. Simmons won the congressional race after Abbott siphoned off a third of the Republican vote.
After 1886, Dudley apparently eschewed active politics, although he did serve as a New Bern school committeeman as late as 1898. He continued to be active in fraternal organizations, including the Grand Lodge of Colored Good Templars, which he served as president, and remained an active lay leader at St. Peter’s AME Zion Church. After Caroline Dudley’s death, which occurred sometime before 1900, Dudley wed his second wife, Susan V. Dudley.
Dudley died in 1913 in New Bern, and is buried in that city’s Greenwood Cemetery. His great-nephew and namesake, Edward R. Dudley (1911-2005), an eminent lawyer and New York Supreme Court justice, was appointed in 1948 by President Harry Truman as U.S. ambassador to Liberia—the first black American to hold the title of ambassador.
Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender & Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896–1920 (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1996); Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Elizabeth Balanoff, “Negro Legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly, July 1868–February 1872,” in North Carolina Historical Review 49 (1972, 21–55); “The Colored Members of the General Assembly of North Carolina,” N.C. Daily Examiner, February 19, 1874, in Hunter Papers, Duke University, Perkins Library Special Collections.