The Anti-Racism Activist That History Forgot
In 1926, an African American newspaper editor in Topeka, Kansas, announced his candidacy for the United States Senate. His name was Nick Chiles. Although a black person had not occupied a Senate seat since 1881—and would not do so again until 1967— Chiles had grown disgusted with Kansas Senator Charles Curtis’s unwillingness to fight for the voting rights of black Southerners.
So, Chiles decided to take matters into his own hands. His campaign platform included eight planks, most of them focused on ending Southern segregationist control of the Senate, re-enfranchising African Americans, and guaranteeing workers a living wage. It also included a plank that made Chiles’s righteous indignation clear: “The Holy Bible for my Guide.”
Despite his reliance on the Bible, Chiles is not the most obvious candidate to receive a biographical feature in Christian History. Mostly forgotten today, the South Carolina–born entrepreneur, activist, politician, and journalist set up shop in Topeka, Kansas, sometime in the 1880s, living there until his death in 1929.
He was best known in his early years for engaging in perhaps the greatest evil a late 19th-century evangelical Protestant could envision: the liquor trade. By the 1890s, white newspapers in Topeka were complaining about the “notorious negro jointist” who was "never punished for crime" and "perpetually petted and cuddled" by white Republican leaders in the city.
Yet Chiles evolved. He used his saloon business to launch more respectable enterprises. A 1922 profile of Chiles glowed: “He came to Topeka with only fifteen dollars in his pocket, but he now owns a $7,000 plant, his own building, a fine residence, ...