Photo: Los Angeles Times file photo
Records are scant about the namesake of a little park in Indianapolis lodged between the Boys and Girls Club and a public housing complex. At one time, however, Frank R. Beckwith gave Richard Nixon a run for the money.
In 1960, the Indianapolis attorney, judge, and civil rights advocate was one of six men vying for the Republican presidential nomination. The first African-American ever to run in a Presidential primary, Beckwith’s rivals included Nelson Rockefeller and Cecil Underwood—governors of New York and West Virginia, respectively—and Ohio Senator George Bender.
Although almost 20,000 votes were cast for Beckwith, the number represented only one-third of a percent of Republican votes, which were overwhelmingly cast for Nixon.
The political contest was not Beckwith’s first, nor would it be his last. Born in 1906, the Republican ran for the state legislature in 1936, and Indianapolis city council in 1938. Neither bid was successful. Beckwith was effective, however, in efforts to integrate the city—opening the state’s high school basketball tournament to black schools and getting blacks hired at Marison County General Hospital, now known as Wishard.
In the 1950s, Beckwith married and practiced with Mahala Ashley Dickerson, the first black woman to practice law in Indianapolis.
Beckwith’s final bids for office included a second run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964, along with one for Indianapolis mayor the same year. The attorney passed away from complications of peritonitis in 1965 at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Salem Village Park was rededicated for Beckwith in 1970.