Thursday, October 15, 2015

Paris' Black Mayor - Severiano de Heredia

On October 5, 2015, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo presided over the inauguration ceremony for rue Severiano de Heredia, a new street in the 17th arrondissement that is named after Paris' first black mayor.

Severiano de Heredia
Image in public domain

Severiano de Heredia was born a "free mulatto" in Havana, Cuba in November 1836. He came to Paris with his adoptive mother - a French woman named Madeleine Godefroy - in 1845. His godfather, Ignacio Heredia y Campuzano, undertook responsibility for his education.

Heredia was an excellent student and won the Grand Prize of Honor at the prestigious Louis-le-Grand high school. He went on to become a poet and literary critic.

He inherited his godfather's wealth upon Heredia y Campuzano's death in 1848, married in 1868, and became a French citizen in 1870. Entering into politics, he championed progressive causes such as the separation of church and state, decreasing work hours for children under the age of 12, and universal education.

In 1873, he was was the first person of color to be elected to the Municipal Council of Paris, representing the Ternes district in the 17th arrondissement. After six years in at this post, he was elected president of the Municipal Council - a position that is the equivalent of the mayorship today. He went on to be elected Deputy, representing the 17th arrondissement in the Assemblée Nationale in 1881, and to serve as Minister of Public Works under Prime Minister Maurice Rouvier for a brief period in 1887. He ended his public service as Deputy in 1889.

Heredia was also a Freemason, rising to the top ranks of his lodge.

He died at his home in 1901 and was buried at the Batignolles Cemetery. His grave is located in Division 8, Line 1, Number 39. According to his biographer, Paul Estrade*, five orators delivered speeches at his funeral. The foreign diplomatic corps was represented by Haiti for the occasion.

Severiano de Heredia book cover

Rue Severiano de Heredia runs parallel to boulevard Pereire and links rue de Saussure and rue Marie-Georges Picquart in the new Clichy-Batignolles quarter in the 17th arrondissement. Among those present at last week's inauguration ceremony were Overseas Minister George Pau-Langevin, Cuban ambassador Héctor Igarza, and biographer Paul Estrade.

*Severiano de Heredia. Ce mulâtre cubain que Paris fit maire, et la République, ministre by Paul Estrade. Les Indes savantes, 2011.

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