The First Person of Native American Descent Was Elected to the U.S. Senate 109 Years Ago Today
A little more than a century before Barack Obama became the first biracial president of the United States, Charles Curtis served as one of the first biracial politicians in the U.S. Senate. Curtis may not be one of America’s most oft-remembered politicians, but he was the first politician with mixed Native American and European heritage to serve as a senator and his role in the national conversation about race is a complicated one.
Curtis was born on January 25, 1860 in Topeka, Kansas to a white father and a mother of Kaw, Osage, Potawatomi and French descent. He was raised on a Kaw reservation near Council Grove after his father went off to fight in the Civil War and his mother died. There, he experienced first-hand the problems that plagued many Native American communities at the time: such as rampant outbreaks of smallpox and alcoholism, according to the Kansas Historical Society.