Francis Lewis Cardozo: Educator, Clergyman and Politician

Francis Lewis Cardozo. Public Domain


When Francis Lewis Cardozo was elected as South Carolina’s secretary of state in 1868, he became the first Black American to be elected to a political position in the state. His work as a clergyman, educator, and politician allowed him to fight for the rights of Black Americans during the Reconstruction period.  

Key Accomplishments

  • Established Avery Normal Institute, one of the first free secondary schools for Black Americans.
  • Early advocate for school integration in the South.
  • First Black American to hold a statewide office in the United States.

Famous Family Members

  • Cardozo’s granddaughter is Eslanda Goode Robeson. Robeson was an actress, anthropologist, writer, and civil rights activist. She was married to Paul Robeson. 
  • A distant relative of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo.

Early Life and Education

Cardozo was born on February 1, 1836, in Charleston. His mother, Lydia Weston was a free Black woman. His father, Isaac Cardozo, was a Portuguese man.

After attending schools established for Black Americans, Cardozo worked as a carpenter and shipbuilder.

In 1858, Cardozo began attending the University of Glasgow before becoming a seminarian in Edinburgh and London.

Cardozo was ordained a Presbyterian minister and upon his return to the United States, he began working as a pastor. By 1864, Cardozo was working as a pastor at the Temple Street Congregational Church in New Haven, CT.

The following year, Cardozo began working as an agent of the American Missionary Association. His brother, Thomas, had already served as superintendent for the organization’s school and soon Cardozo followed in his footsteps.

As superintendent, Cardozo reestablished the school as the Avery Normal Institute. The Avery Normal Institute was a free secondary school for Black Americans. The school’s primary focus was to train educators. Today, Avery Normal Institute is part of the College of Charleston.


In 1868, Cardozo served as a delegate at the South Carolina constitutional convention. Serving as the chair of the education committee, Cardozo lobbied for integrated public schools.

That same year, Cardozo was elected as secretary of state and became the first Black American to hold such a position. Through his influence, Cardozo was instrumental in reforming the South Carolina Land Commission by distributing land to formerly enslaved Black Americans.

In 1872, Cardozo was elected as state treasurer. However, legislators decided to impeach Cardozo for his refusal to cooperate with corrupt politicians in 1874. Cardozo was re-elected to this position twice.

Resignation and Conspiracy Charges

When federal troops were withdrawn from Southern states in 1877 and the Democrats regained control of state government, Cardozo was pushed to resign from office. That same year Cardozo was prosecuted for conspiracy. Although evidence found was not conclusive, Cardozo was still found guilty. He served almost a year in prison. Two years later, Governor William Dunlap Simpson pardoned Cardozo.

Following the pardon, Cardozo relocated to Washington, D.C., where he held a position with the Treasury Department.


In 1884, Cardozo became the principal of the Colored Preparatory High School in Washington, D.C. Under Cardozo’s tutelage, the school instituted a business curriculum and became one of the most outstanding schools for Black students. Cardozo retired in 1896.

Personal Life

While serving as pastor of Temple Street Congregational Church, Cardozo married Catherine Rowena Howell. The couple had six children.


Cardozo died in 1903 in Washington, D.C.


Cardozo Senior High School in the northwest section of Washington, D.C. is named in Cardozo’s honor.  

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Your Citation
Lewis, Femi. "Francis Lewis Cardozo: Educator, Clergyman and Politician." ThoughtCo, Sep. 3, 2021, Lewis, Femi. (2021, September 3). Francis Lewis Cardozo: Educator, Clergyman and Politician. Retrieved from Lewis, Femi. "Francis Lewis Cardozo: Educator, Clergyman and Politician." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).