Hiram Rhodes Revels - First African-American in Congress

Hiram Rhodes Revels - the first African-American to serve in the U.S. Congress - was a Republican from Mississippi, in 1870, when he received an appointment to fill an empty seat in the U.S. Senate.  The Mississippi legislature selected him for the position.

During Senator Revels' swearing-in ceremony - on February 25, 1870 - Charles Sumner (a Republican Senator from Massachusetts) marked the occasion with these words:

All men are created equal, says the great Declaration, and now a great act attests this verity.  Today we make the Declaration a reality ... The Declaration was only half-established by Independence. The greatest duty remained behind.  In assuring the equal rights of all, we complete the work.  (See Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007, edited by Matthew Wasniewski, at page 54.)

The gallery was crowded as Revels became a Senator.  History tells us that everyone rose as he took the oath.  Not only had Hiram become the first black Senator, he became “the 15th Amendment in flesh and blood.”

The soaring rhetoric sounded wonderful, but reality for most black people presented a different picture.  Life in America, for them, was still extremely hard (and frequently unjust).

When a white man was elected to Revels' Senate seat the following year, Hiram - who was also a teacher strongly advocating education for former slaves - resigned from Congress to became the first president of Alcorn University.  

At the time, Alcorn - located near Lorman, Mississippi - was a new institution of higher learning (and America's first black land-grant college).  A preacher before he was a politician, Revels also returned to the pulpit for a time (at a church in Holly Springs, Mississippi). 

He died, of a stroke, while attending a religious conference in Aberdeen, Mississippi

The years of Revels' life, from 1827 to 1901, spanned a time of great upheaval in America.  When he was born, slavery was firmly entrenched in America's South.  When he died, "Jim Crow laws" had replaced slavery as a way to repress people of color.

Media Credits

Clip, from a CSPAN broadcast, paying tribute to Senator Hiram Revels.  Online, courtesy CSPAN's channel at YouTube.


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"Hiram Rhodes Revels - First African-American in Congress" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Feb 17, 2020.
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