America’s Black Second Lady

We all know that Michelle Obama was America’s first African American First Lady. What we probably don’t know is that long before Obama the nation had a Black Second Lady, Julia Chinn of Kentucky.

Julia Chinn was born into slavery and was the property of the Johnson family of what is today known as Louisville. In the early 1800s, Richard Mentor Johnson inherited Julia upon his father’s passing. Over time Johnson fathered two daughters with Chinn and openly referred to her as his “common-law wife.” They lived as a wedded couple and in his absence, Julia was placed in control of running the large estates. Following Julia’s death from cholera in the 1830s, Johnson never remarried but he did seek a career in national politics.

During Julia’s life, Johnson served in both the US House and the Senate and following her death he decided to run for the Vice Presidency. Following a successful but complicated campaign, Johnson was elected as VP and served next to President Martin Van Buren from 1837 to 1841. He had fought during the War of 1812 and stories had it that it was Johnson who fired the fatal shot killing the Indian leader, Tecumseh.

By the end of his first term in the vice presidency, the issue of his open mixed relationship with Julia Chinn had become enough of a problem that the Democrats refused to support a second campaign for him. Upon returning to Kentucky he became involved in state politics but passed away early in that pursuit.

I became aware of this story while watching an episode of KET’s Kentucky Life and have posted a link to the video below.

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