The First Black Man Elected to Congress Was Nearly Blocked From Taking His Seat

The First Black Man Elected to Congress Was Nearly Blocked From Taking His Seat

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Hiram Rhodes Revels arrived on Capitol Hill to take his seat as the first Black member of the U.S. Congress in 1870. But first, the Mississippi Republican faced Democrats determined to block him.

The Constitution requires senators to hold citizenship for at least nine years, and they argued Revels had only recently become a citizen with the 1866 Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment. Before that, the Supreme Court had ruled in its 1857 Dred Scott decision that Black people weren’t U.S. citizens.

This technicality wasn’t actually their main issue with Revels. At the time, the Democrats were the party of white southern men, and they simply didn’t want any Black men in Congress.

In any case, their bad faith legal argument didn’t hold up. Revel’s fellow Republicans argued he was born a free man in the United States and had lived there all his life. Dred Scott was a bad decision that should’ve never been made, which the Civil Rights Act and 14th Amendment had sought to redress, they argued. Just because the law had only recently recognized Black men’s citizenship didn’t mean he was a “new” citizen.

“Mr. Revels, the colored Senator from Mississippi, was sworn in and admitted to his seat this afternoon,” reported The New York Times on February 25, 1870. “Mr. Revels showed no embarrassment whatever, and his demeanor was as dignified as could be expected under the circumstances. The abuse which had been poured upon him and on his race during the last two days might well have shaken the nerves of any one.”

Revels took his oath only five years after the Civil War. Over the next decade, 15 more Black men took their seats in the House and Senate, including men like South Carolina Congressman Robert Smalls who were previously enslaved.

“It really does reflect what a revolutionary period Reconstruction was,” says Gregory Downs, a history professor at the University of California, Davis. Congress had ordered the Army to register Black southern men to vote in 1867. “In a series of a few months, you had people…in South Carolina and other places who had been slaves as recently as two or three years before now participating, now voting and even being elected to serve to remake the Constitution.”

The large population of formerly enslaved people meant that there were many more Black voters in the south than the north (and actually, some northern states didn’t enfranchise Black men until after the southern states). Black men elected Black representatives and white Republicans locally and at the state level, which led to representation at the federal level.

But the people who had objected to Revels joining the Senate were still mad, and it was only a matter of time before backlash struck. In the 1870s, organizations like the White League and the Red Shirts began terrorizing and intimidating Black men so they wouldn’t vote and participate in government.

Because of these tactics, “the height of statewide Black power crests in the middle of the 1870s,” Downs says. “But what does remain in place from the 1880s into the mid-1890s is an enormous amount of Black local political power centered in the regions where Black people are a sizable majority.”

That too came under attack as Jim Crow laws, poll taxes and other racist measures spread throughout the south. “The 1890s and early 1900s is where you get the laws that aim to permanently exclude virtually all Black voters from participating,” Downs says. “The final Black congressman from the south is George White who gives his farewell address, the phoenix speech, in 1901.”

After White, there were no more Black Congress members from the original 11 Confederate states until 1973, when Andrew Young, Jr., of Georgia and Barbara Jordan of Texas (both Democrats) took their seats. Jordan’s election was particularly significant as she came just after New York’s Shirley Chisholm became the first-ever Black Congresswoman in 1969—a full century after emancipation.

READ MORE: Black History Milestones

The First Black U.S. Senator Argued for Integration after the Civil War

Hiram Rhodes Revels faced protest from white senators when he took his oath of office in 1870.

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Despite a days-long outcry from Democratic senators attempting to block the first African-American member of the U.S. Congress from taking his seat, Hiram Rhodes Revels was finally voted in to the Senate along party lines 150 years ago today.

Revels had been appointed to his seat by Mississippi Republicans, as senators at the time were selected by the state legislature instead of by popular vote. Revels had served as an alderman in Natchez, Mississippi, having settled there after traveling the country as a minister, educator, and chaplain for the Union army. When he arrived in Washington, D.C. to be sworn in, Revels was met with protest from the minority Democrats.

“There was not an inch of standing or sitting room in the galleries, so densely were they packed,” according to The New York Times, “and to say that the interest was intense gives but a faint idea of the feeling which prevailed throughout the entire proceeding.” An atmosphere of fervent argument erupted in the chamber in those few days of deliberation over whether or not to allow the first black senator into the body, but the Times only hints at the insulting, racist language hurled at Revels and his defenders.

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The official argument used against Revels was that he had not been a U.S. citizen for the nine years required to be eligible for the U.S. Senate. Even though Revels was born a free man — in 1827 — Democratic senators argued that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 had given the Mississippi alderman only four years of citizenship. Several Republicans held that this was an absurd argument, and that the Senate ought to vote Revels in and begin a new age of representation for African Americans. Democrats accused them of “hollowness and insincerity” for the causes of black men, claiming Republicans were only looking after “partisan considerations.”

In the late afternoon, on February 25th, the vote was taken, and Democrats lost, 48 yays to 8 nays. The Times credited Revels for remaining dignified even though “the abuse which had been poured upon him and on his race during the last two days might well have shaken the nerves of anyone.” He took an oath of office, took his seat, and the Senate was adjourned for the weekend.

Of the two Mississippi Senate seats filled in that session, one had been most recently occupied by Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Harper’s Weekly ran a political cartoon by Thomas Nast that featured Davis as Iago, the traitorous villain of Shakespeare’s Othello, looking on at Revels taking his place in the chamber: “For that I do suspect the lusty moor hath leap’d into my seat: the thought whereof doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards.”

Thomas Nast depicted former Confederate president Jefferson Davis as Iago, the traitorous villain from Shakespeare’s Othello . (Library of Congress)

Revels only served in the U.S. Senate for about a year. Toward the end of his term, on February 8, 1871, Revels sat on the Committee on the District of Columbia as it heard arguments over a clause that would have effectively desegregated D.C. schools. Senator Revels addressed the committee, arguing against an amendment to strike the clause, saying, “If the nation should take a step for the encouragement of this prejudice against the colored race, can they have any ground upon which to predicate a hope that Heaven will smile upon them and prosper them?” He spoke about the oppression of African Americans all over the country that continued because of segregation in housing, church, transportation, and education, and he pleaded his fellow senators to consider how desegregated schools could help to empower African Americans “without one hair upon the head of any white man being harmed.” Unfortunately, his side lost the vote, and school segregation remained lawful in Washington, D.C. until 1954.

Revels was the first in a small wave of black southern congressmen during the Reconstruction Era. A few years after his term, another African American — Blanche Bruce — was elected to the Mississippi Senate. Bruce was able to serve a full term, but Mississippi hasn’t elected an African-American U.S. senator since. In fact, only ten have served in the history of the country.

Featured image: Hiram Revels, the first African American to serve as a U.S. senator. (Library of Congress / Brady Handy Photograph Collection)

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S. Carolina Candidate Shrugs Off History’s Lure

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Tim Scott seemed unburdened by history.

He is poised to become the first black Republican elected to Congress from the Deep South in more than a century, having trounced former Senator Strom Thurmond’s son in Tuesday’s Republican primary for South Carolina’s First Congressional District.

And yet when a voter, Carol Kinsman, a retired nurse who is white, greeted him here the other day, saying, “We’re going to make history,” Mr. Scott gently suggested that the color of his skin was not important.

“Our people are more concerned about the issues than anything else,” he told her. Then he quickly turned the subject to economic development and the need to expand the local Interstate.

Mr. Scott, 44, spent 13 years in county government and is in his second year in the South Carolina Legislature. But the national spotlight seemed to find him only Tuesday night. If elected in November — which is likely, given that his Democratic opponent, Ben Frasier, who is also black, is a perennial who has yet to bloom — he will become the only black Republican on Capitol Hill and the first since Representative J. C. Watts of Oklahoma retired in 2003.

“The historic part of this is nice to have — maybe,” he said of winning the Republican nomination, but he said it was also “a distraction.”

It is not hard to see what he means. This heavily Republican district stretches along the seacoast from here to Charleston, taking in many former plantations and including what was the main port of entry for tens of thousands of African slaves. The district is three-fourths white, and voted overwhelmingly for John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008.

But Mr. Scott, a staunch conservative, is a true reflection of its politics.

He believes that President Obama is driving the country toward bankruptcy and socialism. And he has some regard for Mr. Thurmond, at one time a leading segregationist and warrior against civil rights. When Mr. Scott was first elected to the Charleston County Council in 1995, Mr. Thurmond sent him a handwritten note welcoming him to the party. A year later, Mr. Scott became the statewide co-chairman of Mr. Thurmond’s Senate campaign, his last before he retired in 2003 and died the same year at 100.

How could a black man support someone with such a racist past?

“The Strom Thurmond I knew had nothing to do with that,” Mr. Scott said. “I don’t spend much time on history,” he added, noting that Mr. Thurmond had “evolved” by the time Mr. Scott was born, and had become better known, locally anyway, for his extraordinary level of constituent service. Mr. Scott said he hoped to emulate Mr. Thurmond’s attention to constituents, though not his longevity in Washington.

His goals are to shrink government, repeal the new federal health care law and eliminate earmarks, even those that would help his state. In the state legislature, he has co-sponsored an Arizona-style immigration bill, earning him the endorsement of the Minutemen.

In the primary runoff, Paul Thurmond, his opponent, branded him a career politician and an ineffective one at that.

“My opponent has run for four offices in three years,” Mr. Thurmond said during a debate. “He’s the epitome of politics as usual.” He added: “You wonder why he hasn’t gotten anything done in the House. He’s introduced five bills and hasn’t passed a single one. Within six months of moving into the House, he was running for a different race — that is not commitment.”

Mr. Scott was embraced by some leaders of the Republican establishment, including Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, and some Republicans with Tea Party backing, including former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska (on Facebook), leading some to refer to a “black tea” movement, which is eager to shed any racial overtones.

He also received big donations from the Club for Growth, bringing his total amount raised to an impressive $600,000. Mr. Scott said that if elected, he would limit himself to four terms in Congress, in part because he is a man with a plan — a rather detailed one — that grew out of his troubled youth.

Mr. Scott’s parents were divorced when he was 7. His mother, a nurse at a hospital in Charleston, raised him and his older brother, who is now in the Army in Germany, by herself, often working 16-hour days to keep them off welfare.

Now a business executive, Mr. Scott said he never used drugs and worked since he was 13, wiping windshields at a gas station and serving popcorn at a movie theater. But he acted up in class to seek attention, he said, and by ninth grade, he was failing several courses, including civics, English and Spanish.

He was rescued by a man named John Moniz, who ran the Chick-fil-A next to the movie theater. Mr. Moniz became his mentor, imbuing him with his conservative, Christian philosophy and, as a graduate of the Citadel, teaching him the importance of structure and discipline. He also introduced him to the self-help views of the motivational Christian author Zig Ziglar.

“To know my story is to understand that there were people who had no reason to step up to the plate and help me, but who did,” Mr. Scott said. “I want to serve the community because the community helped me.”

Mr. Moniz died of a heart attack at 38, when Mr. Scott was 17. That prompted Mr. Scott to write down a “mission statement” for his life: to have a positive effect on the lives of one billion people before he dies.

From there he developed what he calls a “life matrix,” a script for living, which is a blueprint for his future, blocked out in five-year segments. Getting elected to Congress, he said, is “helpful” to his life plan, but his goals are laid out in terms of how much he can help other people.

“I have financial goals, the number of lives I want to impact, the number of speeches to give to nonprofits and to faith community organizations, the number of dollars to invest back into the community, the number of speeches to kids like me in high school who are dropping out,” he said.

He has already helped develop a “healthy heart” program at the hospital where his mother still works. (He has lost 30 pounds in the last two years.)

“If you really believe in something and that the government shouldn’t do it, you better be busy,” he said.

Government, he said, allows too many people to be unaccountable, while individuals can achieve great things.

“That’s why I need to invest my time, my talent and my treasure in getting things done,” like helping people develop self-discipline and financial security, he said. “That’s my ambition.”

This Day in Black History: May 12, 1951

Oscar Stanton De Priest ended a 28-year-long dry spell of Black congressional lawmakers when he was the first Black person elected to the House in 1928, representing Chicago. In addition to his somewhat successful political career, DePriest also had an active real estate business. The former Chicago lawmaker died of complications from a bus accident on this day in Black history May 12, 1951.

De Priest was born to former slaves in Florence, Alabama, in 1871, where he lived until his family migrated to Kansas in 1878. He landed in Chicago a little over a decade later to apprentice in the building renovations before opening his own real estate management firm.

A Republican, De Priest won his first elective office, a seat on Chicago's Cook County board of commissioners, in one of the cities known for political patronage thanks in part to his ability to deliver Black voters. But it was a career of ups and downs. Failing to win a third term, De Priest turned his attention to building his business. In 1915, he served as the city's first Black alderman before being forced to step down following a bribery indictment.

In 1924, the successful businessman became a Third Ward committeeman and, in 1928, he won a Republican congressional seat by a slim margin, making him the first Black elected to Congress from the North and in the 20th century.

After three terms, during which he often felt he was representing all African-Americans, De Priest lost his seat to the first Black Democrat elected to Congress, Arthur Wergs Mitchell. After failing to regain the seat, he served on Chicago's city council again and, after losing that seat, focused on his real estate business until his death in 1951 at age 80.

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1 For a comparison of the two men's fame, see, for example, "Mahone Makes a Dicker," 16 September 1889, New York Times: 1.

2 Though Stephen Middleton notes that Langston's status at birth—slave or free—is controversial, most sources indicate that his mother was freed long before his birth and that he was born free. Some ambiguity stems from whether Lucy Langston was subject to strict Virginia Black Codes and not considered legally free. See Stephen Middleton ed., Black Congressmen During Reconstruction: A Documentary Sourcebook (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002): 125.

3 "John Mercer Langston," in Jessie Carney Smith, ed., Notable Black American Men (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, Inc., 1999): 693–698 (hereinafter referred to as NBAM).

4 "John Mercer Langston," NBAM. Black Laws included, "bonding, return of all fugitive slaves, repudiation of the doctrines and activities of abolitionists, and…the total disarmament and arrest of black lawbreakers."

6 Maurine Christopher, Black Americans in Congress (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1976): 140.

7 Eric Foner, Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction, revised edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996): 128.

8 "John Mercer Langston," NBAM.

9 Most standard secondary sources cite Langston's election as clerk of Brownhelm Township as the first time a black man was elected to public office in the United States. See, for example, Foner, Freedom's Lawmakers: 128 William Cheek and Aimee Lee Cheek, John Mercer Langston and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1829–1865 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989): 260. However, this honor likely went to Alexander Twilight, who was elected to the Vermont state house of representatives and presented his credentials on October 13, 1836. See Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Vermont, 1836 (Middlebury, VT: American Office, 1836): 7 Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and "Race" in New England, 1780–1860 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998): 40. Some sources list the date of Langston's election as April 2, 1885, whereas others list it as April 22. There is also disagreement about his party affiliation: Some sources list him as an Independent Democrat, while others list him as a member of the Free Soil or Liberty parties.

10 Christopher, Black Americans in Congress: 141.

11 Frank R. Levstik, "Langston, John Mercer," Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: Norton, 1982): 382–384.

12 William Cheek and Aimee Lee Cheek, "Langston, John Mercer," American National Biography 13 (New York: Oxford, 1999): 164–166 Stanley B. Parsons et al., United States Congressional Districts, 1883–1913 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990): 157–158 John Mercer Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol, ed. William Loren Katz (New York: Arno Press, 1999 reprint of the American Publishing Co. [Hartford, CT], 1894 edition): 451.

13 Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: 439.

15 Mahone's influence is illustrated in several sources. See, for example, "Revolt Against Mahone," 20 September 1888, New York Times: 1 "Mahone's Lost Power," 21 September 1888, New York Times: 1.

16 Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: 454–455, 458 "Campaign Features," 11 August 1888, Washington Post: 2. Langston credited local black women with his electoral success though unable to vote, they were adept at organizing local meetings.

17 Christopher, Black Americans in Congress: 145 Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: 462.

18 See, for example, J. W. Cromwell, "Letters from the People," 23 August 1888, Washington Post: 7.

19 Christopher, Black Americans in Congress: 145 Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: 466–467.

20 Christopher, Black Americans in Congress: 145 Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: 477–481.

21 Michael J. Dubin et al., U.S. Congressional Elections, 1788–1997 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1998): 284.

22 Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: 487–489.

24 Ibid., 495 "Virginia Political Notes," 4 August 1889, Washington Post: 12.

25 Considerable coverage of the contested election is included in the Congressional Record. See Congressional Record, House, 51st Cong., 1st sess. (9 September 1890): 9917–9923 Congressional Record, House, 51st Cong., 1st sess. (17 September 1890): 10152–10169 Congressional Record, House, 51st Cong., 1st sess. (19 September 1890): 10241–10244.

26 The "disappearing quorum" was a dilatory parliamentary tactic frequently employed by members of the minority party who refused to answer roll calls, and thus prevented the House from conducting business by not allowing it to achieve a working quorum. Republican Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine had resorted to the tactic when he was Minority Leader in the 1880s. Yet, as Speaker, with his party firmly in the majority, Reed refused to allow Democrats to stall legislation in this manner. On January 29, 1890, he ordered that the Democrats lingering in the hallways outside the chamber and those in the chamber refusing to vote be considered present. Reed also threatened to leave unsigned legislation requiring his signature before presidential approval until the House considered majority legislation this would hold up several bills important to southern lawmakers. The Speaker's iron fist soon earned him the epithet "Czar Reed." See Charles W. Calhoun, "Reed, Thomas B.," in Donald C. Bacon et al., eds., The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress Volume 3 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995): 1687–1690. For newspaper coverage documenting Democratic stall tactics in Langston v. Venable, see, for example, "Wanted—A Quorum in the House," 22 September 1890, Chicago Daily Tribune: 2 "Reed Is Wild," 20 September 1890, Boston Daily Globe: 1 "Speaker Reed Annoyed," 20 September 1890, New York Times: 1.

27 E. W. B., "Republicans Steal," 24 September 1890, Atlanta Constitution: 1.

28 For contemporary accounts of Republican efforts to achieve a quorum, see "Langston Gets His Seat," 24 September 1894, Chicago Daily Tribune: 71 E. W. B., "Republicans Steal."

29 The lone vote against Langston came from Republican Representative Joseph Cheadle of Indiana. Cheadle remained a devoted Mahone supporter, insisting that the divided Republican vote in the Virginia district was the sole reason for Democratic victory and that seating Langston was an abuse of power. The Indiana Representative would defect to the Democratic and Populist parties in 1896. See "Cheered by Democrats," 18 September 1890, Chicago Daily Tribune: 7 "Pleading for Right," 18 September 1890, Atlanta Constitution: 9 "Cheadle, Joseph Bonaparte," Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present, available at Though Langston recalled that two other Republicans remained in the chamber to maintained the quorum, but refused to vote, 14 members (four Republicans) were officially recorded as present and not voting. See Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: 499 a full account of Langston's seating can be found in the Congressional Record, House, 51st Cong., 1st sess. (23 September 1890): 10338–10339.

30 Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: 500–501 Thomas Miller of South Carolina was seated one day after Langston. Langston recalled being offered a seat next to Henry Cheatham of North Carolina, the only other black Member in the House.

31 "Pleading for His Race," 1 March 1888, Atlanta Constitution: 1.

32 "The Influence of Mahone," 10 October 1890, New York Times: 5.

33 "Mahone May Oppose Langston," 27 September 1890, New York Times: 5 "Mahone and Langston," 31 October 1890, Washington Post: 1.

34 "Langston's Next Fight," 15 November 1890, Washington Post: 2.

35 "Langston Is Confident," 8 October 1890, Washington Post: 1.

36 "Negroes His Only Support," 30 October 1890, Washington Post: 1 "The Issues in Virginia," 29 October 1890, New York Times: 5.

37 Dubin et al., U.S. Congressional Elections, 1788–1997: 292 "Solid in Virginia: The Apathy of the Negroes a Feature in the Contest," 6 November 1890, New York Times: 2.

38 See Office of the Historian, "Political Divisions of the House of Representatives (1789 to Present)," available at

40 "Langston Will Not Contest," 10 March 1891, Washington Post: 5.

41 Christopher, Black Americans in Congress: 147.

42 Congressional Record, House, 51st Cong., 2nd sess. (17 January 1891): 1524.

43 In 1885, President George Washington's birth date (February 22) became a federal holiday. Since the 1971 passage of the Uniform Monday Holidays Act, Washington's Birthday has been celebrated on the third Monday in February and is known as "President's Day" in recognition of all Presidents.

44 Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: 517.

45 Congressional Record, House, 51st Cong., 2nd sess. (27 February 1891): 3490–3493. 46 See, for example, "Langston Upholds His Race," 8 January 1894, Washington Post: 5 "Emancipation at Alexandria," 23 September 1895, Washington Post: 7.

46 See, for example, “Langston Upholds His Race,” 8 January 1894, Washington Post: 5 “Emancipation at Alexandria,” 23 September 1985, Washington Post: 7.


1 Okun Edet Uya, From Slavery to Political Service: Robert Smalls, 1839–1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971): 90.

2 Uya, From Slavery to Political Service: vii.

3 Historians debate the identity of Smalls’s father. Smalls’s descendants claim his father was his owner, John McKee see Ingrid Irene Sabio, “Robert Smalls,” in Jessie Carney Smith, ed., Notable Black American Men (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, Inc., 1999): 1071 (hereinafter referred to as NBAM). Sabio also suggests that Smalls may have been the son of Moses Goldsmith, a Charleston merchant. Another biographer notes that his father was unknown but suggests John McKee’s paternity see Glenda E. Gilmore, “Smalls, Robert,” American National Biography 20 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999): 111–112 (hereinafter referred to as ANB). Still others indicate his father was a white manager on the McKee plantation named Patrick Smalls see Shirley Washington, Outstanding African Americans of Congress (Washington, DC: United States Capitol Historical Society, 1998): 8. If he was not Smalls’s son, it is unclear how he received his surname, though his chief biographer speculates “Smalls” may have been a pejorative description of his stature. See Edward A. Miller, Jr., Gullah Statesman: Robert Smalls from Slavery to Congress, 1839–1915 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995): 7.

4 Smalls also had two stepdaughters, Clara and Charlotte Jones. See Andrew Billingsley, Yearning to Breathe Free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and his Families (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007): xxiii.

5 Maurine Christopher, Black Americans in Congress (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1976): 42 Gilmore, “Smalls, Robert,” ANB.

6 The U.S. Government never fully compensated Smalls for the value of the Planter as a reward for its capture. During the next 30 years, black Members of Congress sought compensation for Smalls equal to the value of the ship. James O’Hara sought compensation for Smalls in the 49th Congress (1885–1887). Henry Cheatham made similar unsuccessful requests in the 51st and 52nd Congresses (1889–1893), and George White failed to pass a resolution reimbursing Smalls in the 55th Congress (1897–1899). The House finally approved a measure submitted by White on May 18, 1900, during the 56th Congress (1899–1901). White originally requested that Smalls receive $20,000. The Committee on War Claims, however, reduced the amount to $5,000. Smalls received this sum after President William McKinley signed the bill into law on June 5, 1900. See Congressional Record, House, 56th Cong., 1st sess. (18 May 1900): 5715.

7 Uya, From Slavery to Political Service: 16–17.

8 Details on Smalls’s military service are unclear because his paperwork was lost. Several sources indicate that Smalls served in the Navy, but others note that he did not have the education to pilot a naval vessel. Therefore, he either received a commission in or worked as a civilian for the Union Army and was frequently detailed to the Navy for service at sea. Smalls was promoted to captain of the Planter in 1865, though it is unclear whether he attained that rank in the Navy or the Army. His alleged salary of $150 per month made him one of the highest–paid African–American servicemen in the Civil War. Smalls received his Navy pension after petitioning Congress in 1897. See Christopher, Black Americans in Congress: 42 Gilmore, “Smalls, Robert,” ANB Sabio, “Robert Smalls,” NBAM Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993): 198 Uya, From Slavery to Political Service: 20–22 Miller, Gullah Statesman: 12–27 Billingsley, Yearning to Breathe Free: 61, 75, 82 Kitt Haley Alexander, “Robert Smalls’ Timeline,” Robert Smalls Official Website and Information Center see (accessed 11 October 2007).

9 Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: 198. Smalls was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions in 1864, 1872, and 1876 and the Republican National Conventions from 1884 to 1896.

10 Uya, From Slavery to Political Service:26–27 Miller, Gullah Statesman:23.

11 Rupert Sargent Holland, ed., Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969): 241 Miller, Gullah Statesman:95. While serving in Congress, he introduced a private bill asking for the relief of the McKee family, but the bill did not pass (see H.R. 2487, 44th Congress, 1st session).

12 Christopher, Black Americans in Congress: 42.

13 Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: 198.

14 Uya, From Slavery to Political Service:90.

15 Congressional Record, House, 44th Cong., 1st sess. (23 May 1876): 3272–3275 Congressional Record, House, 44th Cong., 1st sess. (25 July 1876): 4876.

16 Miller, Gullah Statesman:97. His bill passed the House, but no action was taken in the Senate.

17 Congressional Record, House, 44th Cong., 1st sess. (18 July 1876): 4705.

18 “The Rifle Clubs ‘Dividing Time,’” 20 October 1876, New York Times: 1 “The South Carolina Cheating,” 15 December 1880, New York Times: 1 “The South Carolina Issue,” 31 October 1890, Washington Post: 4.

19 Michael J. Dubin et al., U.S. Congressional Elections, 1788–1997 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1998): 240.

20 Miller, Gullah Statesman:108.

21 Congressional Record, Appendix, 44th Cong., 2nd sess. (24 February 1877): A123–136.

22 “Robert Smalls’ Trial,” 17 December 1877, New York Times: 2 Grace Greenwood, “Remember Those in Bonds,” 14 January 1878, New York Times: 1 “The Persecution of Mr. Smalls,” 7 December 1878, New York Times: 1.

23 Holland, ed., Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne: 288.

24 Uya, From Slavery to Political Service:111.

25 Dubin et al., U.S. Congressional Elections, 1788–1997: 247.

26 Miller, Gullah Statesman: 131.

27 Holland, ed., Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne: 293.

28 Uya, From Slavery to Political Service:111–113.

29 Congressional Record, Appendix, 47th Cong., 1st sess. (19 July 1882): A634–643.

30 Miller, Gullah Statesman:138.

31 Ibid., 139 Stanley B. Parsons et al., United States Congressional Districts, 1883–1913 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990): 136–143.

32 Miller, Gullah Statesman:147.

33 Uya, From Slavery to Political Service:118–119 Miller, Gullah Statesman:147–148.

34 Congressional Record, House, 48th Cong., 2nd sess. (23 February 1883): 2057–2059 see H.R. 7556, 48th Congress, 2nd session.

35 See Christopher, Black Americans in Congress: 50: Miller, Gullah Statesman:153.

36 Congressional Record, Appendix, 49th Cong., 1st sess. (30 July 1886): A319.

37 Congressional Record, House, 49th Cong., 1st sess. (6 January 1886): 481.

38 Congressional Record, House, 49th Cong., 1st sess. (26 June 1886): 6183.

39 “Congressman Smalls’s Canvass,” 20 September 1886, New York Times: 1.

40 “Why Smalls Was Defeated,” 12 December 1886, Washington Post: 3.

41 Christopher, Black Americans in Congress: 50 Dubin et al., U.S. Congressional Elections, 1788–1997: 276.

42 Christopher, Black Americans in Congress: 50–51.

43 “Negro Delegates in Control,” 18 September 1890, Washington Post: 1.

44 “Wade Hampton Losing Votes,” 11 December 1890, New York Times: 1.


1 Congressional Globe, Senate, 41st Cong., 2nd sess. (25 February 1870): 1567.

2 Elizabeth Lawson, The Gentleman From Mississippi: Our First Negro Representative, Hiram R. Revels (New York: privately printed, 1960):8 “Autobiography of Hiram Revels,” Carter G. Woodson Collection of Negro Papers and Related Documents, box 11, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC (hereinafter referred to as LC) Revels’s parents’ names are not known.

3 Revels’s travels took him to as many as eight states before the Civil War. It is difficult to determine in which state he began his ministry. See Kenneth H. Williams, “Revels, Hiram Rhoades,” American National Biography 18 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999): 367–369 (hereinafter referred to as ANB). Williams is one of the few historians to spell Revels’s middle name “Rhoades.” In his handwritten autobiography, Revels lists several states where he ministered, Indiana being the first see “Autobiography of Hiram Revels,” Carter G. Woodson Collection, LC.

4 Revels’s daughter, Susan—the only one of his children whose name is known—edited a black newspaper in Seattle, Washington.

5 “Autobiography of Hiram Revels,” Carter G. Woodson Collection, LC.

6 Some authors clearly state that Revels did not receive a degree from Knox College however, others are less clear as to whether he received a degree for his studies. See, for example, Julius E. Thompson, “Hiram R. Revels, 1827–1901: A Biography,” (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1973): 36–37 Williams, “Revels, Hiram Rhoades,” ANB.

7 Thompson, “Hiram Rhodes Revels, 1827–1901: A Reappraisal,” The Journal of Negro History 79 (Summer 1994): 298.

8 “Autobiography of Hiram Revels,” Carter G. Woodson Collection, LC.

9 Historians disagree about the number of black Mississippi state senators elected in 1869 (figures range from 34 to 40). See Kenneth Potts, “Hiram Rhoades Revels,” in Jessie Carney Smith, ed., Notable Black American Men (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, Inc., 1999): 145 Lawson, The Gentleman From Mississippi: 14 Williams, “Revels, Hiram Rhoades,” ANB Maurine Christopher, Black Americans in Congress (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1976): 3.

10 Quoted in Lawson, The Gentleman From Mississippi:13.

11 U.S. Senators were selected by state legislatures until 1913, when the adoption of the 17th Amendment required their direct election.

12 For more about the chronological order of United States Senators from Mississippi, see Senate Historical Office, “U.S. Senators from Mississippi,” available at (accessed 5 September 2007). See also, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2006): 180.

12 “Autobiography of Hiram Revels,” Carter G. Woodson Collection, LC.

13 Congressional Globe, Senate, 41st Cong., 2nd sess. (23 February 1870): 1513. The enthusiasm with which Republicans in Congress and the media heralded Revels’s admission to the Senate inspired the erroneous story common in the historical record that Revels took Davis’s former seat instead of Brown’s. See, for example, Gath, “Washington,” 17 March 1870, Chicago Tribune: 2 Christopher, Black Americans in Congress: 5–6 Stephen Middleton, ed., Black Congressmen During Reconstruction: A Documentary Sourcebook (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002): 320.

14 Quoted in Lawson, The Gentleman From Mississippi:16, 22–23.

15 Congressional Globe, Senate, 41st Cong., 2nd sess. (16 March 1870): 1986–1988. For an indication of the number of African Americans in the gallery for Revels’s maiden speech, see “By Telegraph,” 15 March 1870, Atlanta Constitution: 2.

16 Congressional Globe, Senate, 41st Cong., 2nd sess. (16 March 1870): 1986–1988.

17 John M. Matthews, “Negro Republicans in the Reconstruction of Georgia,” in Donald G. Nieman, ed., The Politics of Freedom: African Americans and the Political Process During Reconstruction (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1994): 253–268 W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1935 under the title Black Reconstruction New York: Free Press, 1998): 500–504 (citations are to the Free Press edition).

18 Congressional Globe, Senate, 41st Cong., 2nd sess. (17 May 1870): 3520. Revels was so adamant about clarifying his position on amnesty, he reprinted this speech in his unpublished autobiography. See “Autobiography of Hiram Revels,” Carter G. Woodson Collection, LC.

19 Congressional Globe, Senate, 41st Cong., 3rd sess. (8 February 1871): 1059–1060.

21 Quoted in Lawson, The Gentleman From Mississippi:41.

22 Michael Howard was not admitted to West Point because he failed the entrance exam. See Williams, “Revels, Hiram Rhoades,” ANB. See also, for example, “West Point,” 28 May 1870, New York Times: 4.

23 See “Autobiography of Hiram Revels,” Carter G. Woodson Collection, LC.

24 Revels noted that the state legislature tried to name the school after him, but he insisted it remain named for the governor. See “Autobiography of Hiram Revels,” Carter G. Woodson Collection, LC.


1 Charles Coles Diggs, Jr. resigned on June 3, 1980, and was succeeded by George Crockett on November 4, 1980.

2 Katie Beatrice Hall was elected on November 2, 1982, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Adam Benjamin Jr.

3 Eva M. Clayton was elected on November 3, 1992, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Walter Beaman Jones Sr.

4 William Herbert Gray III resigned on September 11, 1991, and was succeeded by Lucien Edward Blackwell on November 5, 1991.

5 Michael Alphonso (Mike) Espy resigned on January 22, 1993, and was succeeded by Bennie Thompson on April 13, 1993.

6 Kweisi Mfume resigned on February 15, 1996, and was succeeded by Elijah Eugene Cummings on April 16, 1996.

7 Juanita Millender-McDonald was elected on March 26, 1996, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Walter R. Tucker III.

8 Mel Reynolds resigned on October 1, 1995, and was succeeded by Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., on December 12, 1995.

9 Walter R. Tucker III resigned on December 15, 1995, and was succeeded by Juanita Millender-McDonald on March 26, 1996.

10 Donna M. Christensen served under the name Donna Christian-Green in the 105th and 106th Congresses (1997–2001).

11 Ronald V. Dellums resigned on February 6, 1998, and was succeeded by Barbara Lee on April 7, 1998.

12 Floyd Harold Flake resigned on November 17, 1997, and was succeeded by Gregory Meeks on February 3, 1998.

13 Barbara Lee was elected on April 7, 1998, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Ronald V. Dellums.

14 Diane Edith Watson was elected on June 5, 2001, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Julian Carey Dixon.

15 Frank W. Ballance, Jr., resigned on June 11, 2004, and was succeeded by George Kenneth (G. K.) Butterfield, Jr., on July 20, 2004.

16 Julia May Carson died on December 15, 2007, and was succeeded in a special election by her grandson André Carson on March 11, 2008.

17 Donna F. Edwards was elected on June 17, 2008, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Albert Russell Wynn.

18 Marcia L. Fudge was elected on November 18, 2008, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Stephanie Tubbs Jones.

19 Stephanie Tubbs Jones died on August 20, 2008, and was succeeded in a special election by Marcia L. Fudge on November 18, 2008.

20 Juanita Millender-McDonald died on April 21, 2007, and was succeeded in a special election by Laura Richardson on August 21, 2007.

21 Barack Obama resigned on November 16, 2008, having been elected the 44th President of the United States on November 4, 2008.

22 Laura Richardson was elected on August 21, 2007, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Juanita Millender-McDonald.

23 Albert Russell Wynn resigned on May 31, 2008, and was succeeded by Donna F. Edwards on June 17, 2008.

24 Roland Burris was appointed to the United States Senate on December 31, 2008, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Barack Obama however, Burris's credentials were not in order until January 12, 2009. He took the oath of office on January 15, 2009, and served until November 29, 2010, when he was succeeded in a special election by Mark Kirk.

25 Donald Milford Payne died on March 6, 2012, and was succeeded in a special election by his son Donald Payne, Jr., on November 6, 2012.

26 Tim Scott resigned his House seat on January 2, 2013, to be appointed to the United States Senate.

27 Alma Adams was elected on November 4, 2014, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Melvin L. Watt.

28 Appointed as a Democrat to the United States Senate on February 1, 2013, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator John F. Kerry. William (Mo) Cowan did not seek election to the full term and left the Senate on July 15, 2013.

29 Robin L. Kelly was elected on April 9, 2013, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Jesse L. Jackson Jr.

30 Dwight Evans was elected by special election on November 8, 2016, to succeed Chaka Fattah.

31 Chaka Fattah resigned on June 23, 2016.

32 John Conyers, Jr., resigned on December 5, 2017, and was succeeded by Brenda Jones on November 6, 2018.

33 Brenda Jones was elected on November 6, 2018, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of John Conyers Jr.

34 Elijah Eugene Cummings died on October 17, 2019, and was succeeded in a special election by Kweisi Mfume on April 28, 2020.

35 Kwanza Hall was elected on December 1, 2020, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of John R. Lewis.

36 John R. Lewis died on July 17, 2020, and was succeeded in a special election by Kwanza Hall on December 1, 2020.

37 Kweisi Mfume was elected on April 28, 2020, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Elijah Eugene Cummings.

38 Troy Carter was elected on April 20, 2021, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Cedric Richmond.

‘Dred Scott’ Redux

This was raw political power that the Republican Party was eager to embrace and Southern Democrats feared. (Remember, Abraham Lincoln had only been dead five years.) So by the time Revels reached the senate on Feb. 23, 1870 — and so soon after Appomattox — he was showered by applause from the gallery, but met resistance from the Democrats on the floor. Particularly galling to them was the fact that Revels was about to inhabit a seat like the one that their former colleague, Jefferson Davis, had resigned en route to becoming president of the Confederacy in 1861. When Davis was still in the Senate, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) had still been good law, they knew, and it had gone out of its way to reject blacks’ claims to U.S. citizenship — the critical third test any incoming senator had to pass.

In staring down Revels, the Democrats’ strategy wasn’t to rake over his birth certificate (an absurd tactic left to our own time) but to proceed as though nothing had happened in between 1857 and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868. (Both of those measures had clarified blacks’ status as citizens, blunting Dred Scott’s force as precedent — the 14th Amendment as a matter of constitutional law.) As a result, by the Democrats’ calculus, Revels, despite having been born a free man in the South and having voted years before in Ohio, could only claim to have been a U.S. citizen for two — and at most four — years, well short of the Constitutional command of nine. It was a rule-based argument, as rigid as it was reactionary. It twisted the founders’ original concerns over allowing foreign agents into the Senate into a bar on all native-born blacks until 1875 or 1877, thus buying the Democrats more time to regain their historical advantages in the South.

So, instead of Sen.-elect Revels taking the oath of office upon his arrival in Washington, he had to suffer two more days of debate among his potential colleagues over his credentials and the reach of Dred Scott. While the Democrats’ defense was constitutionally based, as Richard Primus brilliantly recounts in his April 2006 Harvard Law Review article, “The Riddle of Hiram Revels” (pdf), there were occasional slips that indicated just what animus — at least for some — lurked behind it. “Outside the chamber,” Primus writes, “Democratic newspapers set a vicious tone: the New York World decried the arrival of a ‘lineal descendant of an ourang-otang in Congress’ and added that Revels had ‘hands resembling claws.’ The discourse inside the chamber was almost equally pointed.”

Primus continues, “Senator [Garrett] Davis [of Kentucky] asked rhetorically whether any of the Republicans present who claimed willingness to accept Revels as a colleague ‘has made sedulous court to any one fair black swan, and offered to take her singing to the altar of Hymen.’ ” Can you imagine a senator using such suggestive sexual language on the Senate floor today? (OK, maybe on Twitter.)

Foolishly drawn into the debate, some of Revels’ own supporters contorted themselves trying to work within the Democrats’ framework. Notably, one Republican senator, George Williams of Oregon, staked his vote on Revels’ mixed-race heritage (as Primus indicates, Revels was “called a quadroon, an octoroon, and a Croatan Indian as well as a negro” throughout his life). It was a material fact to Williams, perhaps because, as President Lincoln’s former attorney general Edward Bates had signaled in an opinion during the Civil War, just one drop of European blood was technically enough to exempt a black man from Dred Scott’s citizenship ban against African pure-bloods.

Fortunately for all future black elected officials (just think of the pernicious effects of such a rule, however short-lived, on those who could not claim any obvious white heritage), other Republicans in the caucus refused to play along. As Primus recalls, “Senator Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania [asked his colleagues,] ‘What do I care which pre-ponderates? He [Revels] is a man [and] his race, when the country was in its peril, came to the rescue … I admit that it somewhat shocks my old prejudices, as it probably does the prejudices of many more here, that one of the despised race should come here to be my equal but I look upon it as the act of God.’ ”

The more decisive act for Republicans, as Cameron’s backhanded comments indicated, was the Civil War, which (hello!) in four years had claimed the lives of 750,000 Americans, rewriting the Constitution in blood. To Republicans, before the country had spoken through the Civil Rights Act or Reconstruction Amendments, Dred Scott had, effectively, been overturned by what Sen. James Nye of Nevada called “the mightiest uprising which the world has ever witnessed.”

Charles Sumner, the radical Republican senator from Massachusetts, understood the costs of that uprising, having shed his own blood beneath the cane of Preston Brooks in one of the most violent episodes in the lead-up to the war — right at his own Senate desk. And Sumner wasn’t about to concede any ground to Dred Scott, which, to him, had been “[b]orn a putrid corpse” as soon as it had left the late Chief Justice Taney’s pen. “The time has passed for argument,” Sumner thundered, as quoted in my book, Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008 . “Nothing more need be said … ‘All men are created equal’ says the great Declaration and now a great act attests this verity. Today we make the Declaration a reality. For a long time in word only, it now becomes a deed. For a long time a promise only, it now becomes a consummated achievement.”


Reconstruction and Redemption Edit

The right of black people to vote and to serve in the United States Congress was established after the Civil War by amendments to the Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment (ratified December 6, 1865), abolished slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment (ratified July 9, 1868) made all people born or naturalized in the United States citizens. The Fifteenth Amendment (ratified February 3, 1870) forbade the denial or abridgment of the right to vote on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, and gave Congress the power to enforce the law by appropriate legislation.

The first black to address Congress was Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, in 1865, on occasion of the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. [9]

In 1866, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and the four Reconstruction Acts, which dissolved all governments in the former Confederate states with the exception of Tennessee. It divided the South into five military districts, where the military through the Freedmen's Bureau helped protect the rights and safety of newly freed black people. The act required that the former Confederate states ratify their constitutions conferring citizenship rights on black people or forfeit their representation in Congress. [ citation needed ]

As a result of these measures, black people acquired the right to vote across the Southern states. In several states (notably Mississippi and South Carolina), black people were the majority of the population. By forming coalitions with pro-Union white people, Republicans took control of the state legislatures. At the time, state legislatures elected the members of the US Senate. During Reconstruction, only the state legislature of Mississippi elected any black senators. On February 25, 1870, Hiram Rhodes Revels was seated as the first black member of the Senate, while Blanche Bruce, also of Mississippi, seated in 1875, was the second. Revels was the first black member of the Congress overall. [10]

Black people were a majority of the population in many congressional districts across the South. In 1870, Joseph Rainey of South Carolina was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the first directly elected black member of Congress to be seated. [11] Black people were elected to national office also from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

All of these Reconstruction era black senators and representatives were members of the Republican Party. The Republicans represented the party of Abraham Lincoln and of emancipation. The Democrats represented the party of planters, slavery and secession.

From 1868, Southern elections were accompanied by increasing violence, especially in Louisiana, Mississippi and the Carolinas, in an effort by Democrats to suppress black voting and regain power. In the mid-1870s, paramilitary groups such as the White League and Red Shirts worked openly to turn Republicans out of office and intimidate black people from voting. This followed the earlier years of secret vigilante action by the Ku Klux Klan against freedmen and allied white people.

After the disputed Presidential election of 1876 between Democratic Samuel J. Tilden, governor of New York, and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, governor of Ohio, a national agreement between Democratic and Republican factions was negotiated, resulting in the Compromise of 1877. Under the compromise, Democrats conceded the election to Hayes and promised to acknowledge the political rights of black people Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South and promised to appropriate a portion of federal monies toward Southern projects.

Disenfranchisement Edit

With the Southern states "redeemed", Democrats gradually regained control of Southern legislatures. They proceeded to restrict the rights of the majority of black people and many poor white people to vote by imposing new requirements for poll taxes, subjective literacy tests, more strict residency requirements and other elements difficult for laborers to satisfy.

By the 1880s, legislators increased restrictions on black voters through voter registration and election rules. In 1888 John Mercer Langston, president of Virginia State University at Petersburg, was elected to the U.S. Congress as the first African American from Virginia. He would also be the last for nearly a century, as the state passed a disenfranchising constitution at the turn of the century that excluded black people from politics for decades. [12]

Starting with the Florida Constitution of 1885, white Democrats passed new constitutions in ten Southern states with provisions that restricted voter registration and forced hundreds of thousands of people from registration rolls. These changes effectively prevented most black people and many poor white people from voting. Many white people who were also illiterate were exempted from such requirements as literacy tests by such strategies as the grandfather clause, basing eligibility on an ancestor's voting status as of 1866, for instance.

Southern state and local legislatures also passed Jim Crow laws that segregated transportation, public facilities, and daily life. Finally, racial violence in the form of lynchings and race riots increased in frequency, reaching a peak in the last decade of the 19th century.

The last black congressman elected from the South in the 19th century was George Henry White of North Carolina, elected in 1896 and re-elected in 1898. His term expired in 1901, the same year that William McKinley, who was the last president to have fought in the Civil War, died. No black people served in Congress for the next 28 years, and none represented any Southern state for the next 72 years.

From 1910 to 1940, the Great Migration of Black people from the rural South to Northern cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland began to produce black-majority Congressional districts in the North. Black people could exercise their right to vote. In the two waves of the Great Migration through 1970, more than six and a half million black people moved north and west and became highly urbanized.

In 1928, Oscar De Priest won the 1st Congressional District of Illinois (the South Side of Chicago) as a Republican, becoming the first black congressman of the modern era. Arthur Wergs Mitchell became the first African-American Democrat elected to Congress when he replaced De Priest in 1935. De Priest, Mitchell and their successor, William Dawson, were the only African Americans in Congress up to the mid-1940s, when additional black Democrats began to be elected in Northern cities. Dawson became the first African American in history to chair a congressional committee in 1949. De Priest was the last African-American Republican elected to the House for 58 years, until Gary Franks was elected to represent Connecticut's 5th in 1990. Franks was joined by J.C. Watts in 1994 but lost his bid for reelection two years later. After Watts retired in 2002, the House had no black Republicans until 2010, with the elections of Allen West in Florida's 22nd and Tim Scott in South Carolina's 1st. West lost his reelection bid in 2012, while Scott resigned in January 2013 to accept appointment to the U.S. Senate. Two new black Republicans, Will Hurd of Texas's 23rd district and Mia Love of Utah's 4th district, were elected in 2014, with Love being the first ever black Republican woman to be elected to Congress. She lost reelection in 2018, leaving Hurd as the only black Republican member of the U.S. House.

The election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 led to a shift of black voting loyalties from Republican to Democrat, as Roosevelt's New Deal programs offered economic relief to people suffering from the Great Depression. From 1940 to 1970, nearly five million black Americans moved north and also west, especially to California, in the second wave of the Great Migration. By the mid-1960s, an overwhelming majority of black voters were Democrats, and most were voting in states outside the former Confederacy.

It was not until after passage by Congress of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the result of years of effort on the part of African Americans and allies in the Civil Rights Movement, that black people within the Southern states recovered their ability to exercise their rights to vote and to live with full civil rights. Legal segregation ended. Accomplishing voter registration and redistricting to implement the sense of the law took more time.

On January 3, 1969, Shirley Chisholm was sworn as the nation's first African-American congresswoman. Two years later, she became one of the 13 founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Until 1992, most black House members were elected from inner-city districts in the North and West: New York City, Newark, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis and Los Angeles all elected at least one black member. Following the 1990 census, Congressional districts needed to be redrawn due to the population shifts of the country. Various federal court decisions resulted in states' creating districts to provide for some where the majority of the population were African Americans, rather than gerrymandering to exclude black majorities. [ citation needed ]

Historically, both parties have used gerrymandering to gain political advantage, by drawing districts to favor their own party. In this case, some districts were created to link widely separated black communities. As a result, several black Democratic members of the House were elected from new districts in Alabama, Florida, rural Georgia, rural Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia for the first time since Reconstruction. Additional black-majority districts were also created in this way in California, Maryland and Texas, thus increasing the number of black-majority districts. [ citation needed ]

The creation of black-majority districts was a process supported by both parties. The Democrats saw it as a means of providing social justice, as well as connecting easily to black voters who had been voting Democratic for decades. The Republicans believed they gained by the change, as many of the Democratic voters were moved out of historically Republican-majority districts. By 2000, other demographic and cultural changes resulted in the Republican Party holding a majority of white-majority House districts.

Since the 1940s, when decades of the Great Migration resulted in millions of African Americans having migrated from the South, no state has had a majority of African-American residents. Nine African Americans have served in the Senate since the 1940s: Edward W. Brooke, a Republican from Massachusetts Carol Moseley Braun, Barack Obama, and Roland Burris (appointed to fill a vacancy), all Democrats from Illinois Tim Scott (initially appointed to fill a vacancy, but later elected), a Republican from South Carolina Mo Cowan (appointed to fill a vacancy), a Democrat from Massachusetts Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California and Raphael Warnock a Democrat from Georgia.

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