Daniel Augustus Straker was a lawyer and a political figure in Orangeburg during the Reconstruction years.
He was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, where he became a successful teacher and principal at St. Mary’s Public School. He moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and taught at a freedman’s school for a year. In 1869, he entered Howard University, graduating in two years with a degree in law.
He returned to Kentucky but was unable to find work as a lawyer, so he took a position as a postal clerk. He married Annie M. Carey. Straker also was connected with Frederick Douglas’s New National Era newspaper, which gained him national recognition.
Straker moved to Charleston in 1875, taking a position as an inspector in the custom house. In 1876, he joined the law firm of Elliott and Stewart and moved to Orangeburg. At that time, Robert Elliott and T. McCants Stewart were considered the best black lawyers in South Carolina.
In April 1876, Straker and A.B. Knowlton were hired by the Orangeburg County Commissioners (County Council today) to take care the interest of the county in a $2,000 suit by Maj. T.B. Whaley.
Straker was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives in 1876. On May 1, 1877, the House rejected Straker because of his “gross contempt and defiant attitude assumed against the law and the dignity of the house.”
He departed Orangeburg in 1882 and took a position on the faculty of Allen University and to practice law in Columbia. Straker earned a national reputation as a fearless civil rights leader.
A staunch Republican, Straker waged one more campaign for office in 1884, when he ran for lieutenant governor. After that defeat and in response to the growing racial climate in South Carolina, he moved to Detroit in 1887.
While in Detroit, he opened a law firm and began lecturing on racial politics in the “New South.” In 1890, he successfully argued a civil rights case, Ferguson vs. Giles before the Michigan Supreme Court. The Ferguson decision outlawed separation by race in public places and was often later cited in subsequent cases challenging Jim Crow legislation.
Daniel Straker forged alliances with W.E.B. Dubois on civil rights matters. In 1893, he was elected as a judge for Wayne County, Michigan. He was also the author of five books.
The legacy and the name of Daniel Augustus Straker has continued to live through the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association. It was formed in 1990 in Southfield, Michigan.
Straker died of pneumonia at the age of 66 on Feb. 14, 1908.