America’s First Black President, Dr. Carlos Antonio Mendoza


Photo retrieved from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division-Bain Collection:

In the United States we often use the terms “America” and “American” loosely. We tend to forget that the terms not only refer to countries or people residing in North America but to those countries and individuals also living in Central, and South America. So even though everyone likes to call Baraka Obama “America’s first black president,” that is in actuality a misnomer.

America’s first black president was Dr. Carlos Antonio Mendoza. Dr. Mendoza was born in Panama City, Panama on October 31, 1856. He attended the National University of Colombia where he earned his Doctorate of Law degree. He held the position of Acting President of Panama State from 1871-1872. He was eventually named Second Designate by the legislature, and he became the 3rd president of the Republic of Panama on March 1, 1910, upon the death of President José Domingo de Obaldía, and Prime Designate, José Agustín Arango.

Dr. Mendoza only served as president for 7 months, the remainder of President Obaldías term, and he was not re-elected. Mendoza had hoped to be re-elected but some people in the country were not fans of his mixed racial heritage and were unhappy about his political stance.

Dr. Mendoza is famous in Panama for his defense of Victoriano Lorenzo, a renowned freedom fighter, his work in drafting the constitution, his authoring of the act, which separated Panama from Colombia (they used to be one country), and his opposition to Article 136 of the Panamanian Constitution which gave the US free reign to intervene anywhere in Panama in issues pertaining to public peace.

Dr. Mendoza died on February 13, 1916 at the age of 59. He is said to have been an advocate of the poor and marginalized people of the region.


EnCaribe Encyclopedia de Historia y Cultura del Caribe. Retrieved February 9, 2015 from:


2 thoughts on “America’s First Black President, Dr. Carlos Antonio Mendoza

  1. Actually, AfroLatinagirl, the main reason why President Carlos Mendoza was relieved as the President of Panama was more to do with the US’s stance. US presidents did not wish to have diplomatic relations with a visibly president of mixed African origins. This is not to discount your points, about certain Panamanians who did not wish to have a Black Panamanian president. I am sure there were some or many but let’s not forget, in Panama, the vast majority of the people are of non-all White ethnic groups. If anything, the small percentage of people with racial issues may have wanted him removed for this reason. But for his political philosophy, this could have been a mixture of both, Afro-Mestizo-white-all other Panamanians. One does not have to be racist just because they do not support a person of a certain race’s political position. It would be the political position and management and not have anything to do with race. Keep an open mind. I believe the first Afro Latin president may have been Vicente Guerrero of Mexico. But Mexico, sad to say, did not recognize its Afro Mexicans until 1992. Panama has always held a historical understanding of all races due to a country of multi-ethnic, multiracial heritage. I myself may look white, and I do mean this, but I have African-European-Native American, all, within my DNA as an American of Panamanian parentage.

    Gracias hermana.

    1. Thank you so much for your input. I can definitely see how the US probably played a role in his inability to be re-elected. The US has a long history of insinuating itself into Panamanian political policy. Yes, as a woman of Panamanian descent, I do agree that of the Spanish speaking countries in Latin America, Panama is known to have a high non-white population and that racism and political position are separate entities but considering the time in which these events occurred, I do not rule out race related factors.

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