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C. Alfred Rideout arrived in Arkansas about 1883, from Monticello (Jefferson County), Florida, where he was an attorney in 1877. In 1883, Rideout appears in a list of attendees at a Colored Men's Convention in Little Rock, where he represented Conway County (Arkansas). He attended a similar convention in Louisville (Kentucky), called by Frederick Douglass, that same year. The Weekly Mansion, a Black newspaper, stated that he was the attorney for the Fort Smith and Memphis Railroad. As part of that work, he went to South Carolina to recruit Blacks to work on the railroad, but was chased out of the state by threats of violence.
Rideout was living in Monticello, Jefferson County, Florida, in 1876, when he wrote a letter to the editor of the Tallahassee Sentinel on August 1, inveighing against the Democratic Party. Political events of the day, including the Compromise of 1877, which ended federal oversight of the former Confederate states, seem to have caused Rideout to despair, as evidenced by another letter to the American Colonization Society in 1877 that inquired about Black emigration to Liberia. In the letter, he noted that "the field for Lawyer of color have been uphill business and is still worse now."
Despite his Florida condemnation of the Democratic Party, Rideout was active in the Democratic Party of Arkansas. Like other early Arkansan African American lawyers, he may have responded to that party's efforts during the period to obtain votes from African Americans with promises of full participation in party politics. Those promises disappeared as the white Democrats gained control of state politics.
About 1891, he moved to Seattle, Washington, where he identified himself as Conrad A. Rideout, an agent for "well-to-do" Blacks who wished to move west. He claimed to be a graduate of an Ann Arbor University and a former Arkansas' state legislator (his name does not appear on Arkansas state lists of elected officials). In Seattle, he was an active Mason, involved in the reorganization of the Cornerstone Grand Lodge of the York Masons in June 1891. Rideout also was involved in establishing the first Black Democratic organization in Seattle in 1891. For his work, he apparently was promised a ministerial position in Bolivia but it did not materialize. He lobbied for other government positions abroad, but did not succeed in obtaining any. In 1898, he unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat on a "fusion" slate for a position as district representative.
In 1898, Rideout married a wealthy widow, Mrs. May B. Mason, who had made her fortune prospecting for gold in the Klondike. A year later, they left for South Africa where they remained two years. Apparently, the idea of emigration to Africa was still of interest, as rumor said he was scouting for a place to settle. While there, he apparently did volunteer work in missions of the AME Church although he also was described as "cut[ting] quite a swath through South Africa, what with his 'high silk hat, his Prince Albert coat, and his reliance on elaborate "legal phraseology"' to convey even the most pedestrian observations." While in Africa, Rideout claimed to have been a judge in Arkansas. Rideout remained in Africa for three years, returning via New York in 1903, though his wife left before him and resumed her former surname in Seattle.
Rideout died in Pima County, Arizona, at a hospital outside of Tucson on July 1, 1906. The death certificate indicates his occupation as labor agent and typhoid fever as his cause of death.
Sources: Buckley, Rev. V. H., The Truth about Arkansas (1883); letter dtd 4/30/2002, from Ken Barnes, Professor of History, University of Central Arkansas, containing information he collected about Rideout; Quintard Taylor, Forging a Black Community: Seattle's Central District, from 1870 Through the Civil Rights Era (1994); Dotty DeCoster, Independent Scholar, Seattle, Washington, "Conrad A. Rideout – A Preliminary Biography" (2010).
Copyright ©2003 Judith Kilpatrick, all rights reserved