Bessie Allison Buchanan
Manhattan is the oldest and the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City. Located primarily on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River, the boundaries of the borough are identical to those of New York County, an original county of the state of New York...
in New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...
became the first African-American woman to hold a seat in the New York State Legislature when she was elected to the New York State Assembly
The New York State Assembly is the lower house of the New York State Legislature. The Assembly is composed of 150 members representing an equal number of districts, with each district having an average population of 128,652...
Family and early life
Charles and Evelyn Allison moved to New York City from Petersburg, Virginia
Petersburg is an independent city in Virginia, United States located on the Appomattox River and south of the state capital city of Richmond. The city's population was 32,420 as of 2010, predominantly of African-American ethnicity...
around the turn of the 20th Century. Bessie Allison was born on March 7, 1902. She grew up in New York City with her five sisters and one brother.
Singer and dancer
From a young age, Bessie had an interest in singing and dance. She appeared in the original Shuffle Along
Shuffle Along is the first major successful African American musical. Written by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, with music and lyrics by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, the musical premiered on Broadway in 1921.-Plot:...
in 1921, the first successful musical comedy with an all African American cast. She was in the 1925 edition of The Plantation Revue and in the integrated cast of Lucky in 1927. She performed with the Show Boat
Show Boat is a musical in two acts with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. It was originally produced in New York in 1927 and in London in 1928, and was based on the 1926 novel of the same name by Edna Ferber. The plot chronicles the lives of those living and working...
road company and recorded for Black Swan Records
Black Swan Records was a United States record label founded in 1921 in Harlem, New York. It was the first widely distributed label to be owned and operated by, and marketed to, African Americans....
. Bessie also danced in the chorus line of the famed Cotton Club
The Cotton Club was a famous night club in Harlem, New York City that operated during Prohibition that included jazz music. While the club featured many of the greatest African American entertainers of the era, such as Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Adelaide Hall, Count Basie, Bessie Smith,...
Bessie Allison met Charlie Buchanan, who was the director of the Savory Club, while she was working as a dancer and singer in Harlem
Harlem is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, which since the 1920s has been a major African-American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands...
Bessie and Charlie were married in 1929 and she retired from the stage.
After her marriage, Bessie was active in Woman's Civic Club activities in Harlem. She frequented the popular night clubs. Jet
magazine and other publication wrote about her social comings and goings.
Stork Club incident
Buchanan was in Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker was an American dancer, singer, and actress who found fame in her adopted homeland of France. She was given such nicknames as the "Bronze Venus", the "Black Pearl", and the "Créole Goddess"....
's party at the Stork Club
The Stork Club was a nightclub in New York City from 1929 to 1965. From 1934 onwards, it was located at 3 East 53rd Street, just east of Fifth Avenue...
in 1951 when Baker was dissatisfied with her service and stormed out of the nightclub. Baker made claims of racism and a public debate occurred in the media with high profile celebrities taking sides. Baker and Buchanan organized protests and a picket line to pressure the Stork Club's clientele to not patronize the club.
Buchanan became interested in politics while she was campaigning for Governor Herbert A. Lehman's election to the United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...
in 1949. After Lehman was elected she stayed involved with community and political organizations in Harlem, and in 1954 she was approached about running as the Democratic Party candidate for the New York State Assembly from Harlem's Twelfth District. In the General Election, Buchanan won easily over her opponent Lucille Pickett, another black woman, 22,401 to 6,177 votes in a district heavily dominated by Democrats. Buchanan was reelected three more times and served a total of eight years.
New York State Assemblywoman
Buchanan's term in the State Assembly began in January 1955. While in the legislator she served on the Cities, Institutions, Printing, and Social Welfare Committees. She was assigned to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Problems of the Aging. In 1960 Buchanan was selected by Governor Nelson Rockefeller
Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller was the 41st Vice President of the United States , serving under President Gerald Ford, and the 49th Governor of New York , as well as serving the Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower administrations in a variety of positions...
to be a Delegate to the White House Conference on the Aged.
In 1962, Buchanan did not run for reelection. Instead she crossed party lines and supported Republicans Governor Rockefeller and Senator Jacob Javits in their reelection bids.
Commissioner of the Human Rights Division
In 1962, Rockefeller appointed Buchanan to be State Commissioner of the Human Rights Division, a position she held for five years.
Later life, death, and legacy
Buchanan remained active in community activities after she left public office. She died in 1980 at the age of 78 after a short illness.