Clarence A. Bacote was a distinguished historian, scholar, and political activist who dedicated his life to educating Black voters in Atlanta. An authority on Georgia political history, he studied extensively the barriers to Black political participation in the state. As a political activist he was responsible for helping to register thousands of African American voters in the mid-1940s and for organizing them into a political force in the city.
The only son and the oldest of three children, Bacote was born February 24, 1906, to Lucy Bledsoe and Samuel William Bacote in Kansas City, Missouri. He attended the Kansas City public schools and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas (1926). He earned both master’s (1929) and doctoral (1955) degrees in history from the University of Chicago. He married Lucia Moore of Atlanta in 1931. They had two children, Lucia Jean and Samuel William II.
In 1930 Bacote joined the history faculty of Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta University), where he spent the next forty-seven years. In 1963 he became the department chair. He was the first person appointed to the school’s graduate faculty. Bacote was a specialist in Reconstruction history and was the university’s official historian. A brilliant scholar, he published numerous articles in the Journal of Negro History, Journal of Southern History, and Phylon. In 1969 he published The Story of Atlanta University: A Century of Service, 1865-1965.
In 1933 Bacote became the first director of the citizenship schools created by the Atlanta branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to better acquaint Blacks with the operation of their government.After the U.S. Supreme Court declared the white primary in Georgia unconstitutional in 1946, Atlanta Blacks decided to take a grassroots approach to increase the number of qualified Black voters. They established the Atlanta All-Citizens Registration Committee (ACRC) to consolidate the various voter registration groups in the African American community under one organization and to register qualified Black voters. Bacote served as chair of the committee. As a result of their efforts, the number of Black registered voters increased from 6,976 to 21,244 in less than five months. When the Atlanta Negro Voters League was founded in 1949, the ACRC continued its work under the league’s auspices, and Bacote remained its chair until 1953.
In 1952 Bacote managed the successful Atlanta School Board campaign of Rufus Clement, Atlanta University’s president. That same year Bacote was elected vice president of the Fulton County Democratic Club. In September 1958 Bacote and Atlanta attorney J. C. Daugherty were the first Blacks elected to the Fulton County Democratic Executive Committee from the Third Ward. In 1962 he was appointed to the Georgia State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and three years later he was appointed to a seat on the Fulton County Jury Commission. He served as a political consultant for local television, analyzing city, state, and national elections.
After retiring from Atlanta University in 1977, Bacote was hired to teach in the history department at Morehouse College. He remained in that position until his death on May 1, 1981.