Thomas Mundy Peterson (October 6, 1824 – February 4, 1904) of Perth Amboy, New Jersey was the first African-American to vote in an election under the just-enacted provisions of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution. His vote was cast on March 31, 1870. He was born in Metuchen, New Jersey. He was a school custodian between 1870 and 1877, and a general handyman in Perth Amboy. Active in the Republican Party, and the Prohibition Party, he became the city’s first African-American to hold elected office, on the Middlesex County Commission. He was also the city’s first “colored” person to serve on a jury.
Peterson voted in a local election held at Perth Amboy City Hall over the town’s charter. Some citizens wanted to revise the existing charter while others wished to abandon the charter altogether in favor of a township form of government. Peterson cast his ballot in favor of revising the existing charter. This side won 230 to 63. Peterson was afterward appointed to be a member of the committee of seven that made subsequent amendments leading to the final version that was approved by the State Legislature April 5, 1871.
To honor Thomas Mundy Peterson as the first African-American voter after the passage of the 15th Amendment, the citizens of Perth Amboy raised $70 (over $1,000 in 2010 dollars) to award him with a gold medallion. The full medallion consists of a gold bar from which a two-inch diameter medallion was hung. The hanging medallion featured a profile bust of a clean-shaven Abraham Lincoln. It was presented to Thomas Mundy Peterson on Memorial Day, which was then called Decoration Day, May 30, 1884. He is said to have loved the medal and never considered himself properly dressed without it affixed to his left breast. Later in life financial instability forced Peterson to sometimes pawn the medallion. It is currently housed at the historically African-American Xavier University of Louisiana.
In October 1989, the school where Peterson had worked was renamed after him. Now currently on State Street, Perth Amboy.
In New Jersey, March 31 is annually celebrated as Thomas Mundy Peterson Day in recognition of his historic vote. #blackhistoryfacts #blackhistory
Thomas Mundy Peterson
Article By Richard Jackson @nyceflix