A Brief History
On February 25, 1870, history was made when Hiram Rhodes Revels, an African American man from Mississippi, was sworn in as a US Senator, the first African American member of the US Congress.
Despite being born in North Carolina in 1827, Revels was not born a slave, and later lived in Indiana and Ohio. The son of a Baptist minister, Revels was educated in Quaker seminaries and at Knox College, in Illinois, later being ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Revels served in the US Army during the American Civil War as a chaplain, and also helped recruit two regiments of African American soldiers. After the war, Revels moved to Mississippi where he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church and became a pastor and entered state politics.
At the time, the state legislatures selected Senators, and Mississippi’s legislature elected Revels to his historic post as a US Senator. After serving only a year in the Senate, Revels then served as the Secretary of State of Mississippi and also as the first president of what became Alcorn State University. He died in 1901 leaving a wife and 8 children.
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For more information, please see…
Dray, Phillip. Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008.
Sewell, George Alexander. Hiram Rhodes Revels, United States senator. Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, 1983.
The featured image in this article, the “First Colored Senator and Representatives in the 41st and 42nd Congress of the United States,” is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
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