Though Black History is celebrated all year with us, we're sharing a little bit more history this month. You may already know the names and faces of the esteemed leaders listed below, or maybe you don't. The idea is to be mindful of African American political folks who've jumped obstacles parked in their way to move forward and resolve social and economic issues for us all.
During President Lincoln's administration the emancipation proclamation of slaves was passed; the 13th and 14th Amendments were established to abolish slavery for all regardless of geographic boundaries; and African Americans were given the right to citizenship in the United States of America. As President Andrew Jackson took office after the assassination of Lincoln, he sought to manage the aftermath of the Civil war and devised a plan to unify the country by folding in the slave states as well as to create civility between whites and former slaves. This interest was conceived as Johnson's Reconstruction Era[1866- 1877]. In spite of white Southerners' intolerance of black progressiveness, the post Civil War and Reconstruction eras ushered in southern and northern political progressiveness for many blacks. During this time, African Americans were winning elections to southern state legislatures and the U.S. Congress.
Paying homage to our sung and unsung heroes, we're highlighting an African American Senator and State Representatives below. We hope that while you review the list of politicians below you'll learn more about the political advances of African Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels [1827 - 1901], was born free in North Carolina and traveled to Indiana and Illinois where he sought to strengthen his educational competencies. After completing graduate work, Revels became involved in politics. With the Civil War behind him and the country, Revels moved to Mississippi to begin his political career. He became the first black member of Congress for the state. Other noteworthy posts indicate that Hiram Rhodes Revels was an ordained minister for the African Methodist Episcopalian church and the first President of Alcorn University (formerly Oakland College).
State Representative Benjamin Sterling Turner [1825 - 1894], was born a slave in Weldon, North Carolina. While in bondage he was moved with his mother to Alabama. With a hunger for learning, Turner was steadfast to be supremely literate by the age of 20. Benjamin Turner worked for his slave owners in their hotel and was allowed to save his money; and become a land owner post slavery. Turner became one of the wealthiest African American freedmen in Alabama. With status and influence, Turner rose to be a public figure serving the United States House of Representatives representing Alabama's 1st congressional district in the 42nd United States Congress.
State Representative Robert Carlos De Large [1842 - 1874], was born a slave in South Carolina. Educating blacks during slavery was a crime; however, Robert received the equivalent of a high school education. De Large earned his living as a farmer and tailor. As he became interested in politics, he took a post in the Freedman’s Bureau and helped organize the Republican Party in South Carolina. In 1870, DeLarge was elected to represent South Carolina’s Second Congressional District in Washington. He would never complete his term; and ultimately left Washington, D.C. to enter local politics.
Josiah Thomas Walls (1842–1905), was born into slavery in Winchester, Virginia. It has been suggested that he was the off-spring of his slave owner. Walls was forced to join the Confederate army but was captured by the Union Army and then emancipated from bondage. Josiah Walls had an illustrious career in the military during the Civil War for an African American. He pursued a political career and was the first African American to serve his state in Congress; the first African American in the United States Congress elected during the Reconstruction Era; and the first black person to be elected to Congress from Florida.
State Representative Jefferson Franklin Long [1836-1901], was born to a slave mother in west–central Georgia. He learned the tailoring business as a young man in bondage. Working in his slave owner's tailor shop, he mended and sewed for the local customers. However, next door to the he tailor shop was a local newspaper. When Long wasn't working as a tailor he was setting copy for the newspaper, which is how he taught himself to read. After the Civil War Jefferson Long bought his own tailoring shop; and became an active member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) of Macon, GA. As an established entrepreneur and member of his community, he pursued his blossoming interest in politics. Jefferson F. Long became a prominent member of the Republican Party in 1867; was the first African American member to speak on the floor of the House of Representatives; and was the last black Representative elected from Georgia until Representative Andrew Young won a seat in 1972
State Representative Joseph Rainey [1832–1887], was born into slavery in Georgetown, South Carolina. His father who was a barber earned enough money to buy his family's freedom. Father Rainey moved his family to Charleston, South Carolina. Though young Joseph became free, he had little education. Following in his father's footsteps he became a barber. As an adult Joseph was pulled into the Confederate army. Having been assigned a position as a cook and a steward aboard a Confederate ship, Joseph Rainey with his wife was able to escape to Bermuda where slavery had been abolished in 1834. He and his wife lived a successful life abroad until the Civil War ended. Returning to the US, Joseph entered into politics. He became the first African American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives; the first African American to preside over the House; and the longest tenured African American Representative during the Reconstruction era.
State Representative Robert B. Elliott [1842–1884], was born in Liverpool, England. He was educated and received a law degree in London. Elliott came to the US while serving in the British Royal Navy. Establishing a homestead in South Carolina he went on to obtain his law license from the South Carolina bar association and started his law practice. With strong political interests, he secured a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Elliot with the backing of the Republican party, ran for Congress from the Third Congressional District and won. He would go on to run and win a seat in the South Carolina General Assembly in 1874; became the elected Speaker of the General Assembly; and ultimately South Carolina Attorney General.
State Representative Blanche Kelso Bruce [1841–1898], was born a slave in Farmville, VA to an African American mother and her white slave owner. Even though Blanche was a slave he was allowed to study with his white brothers from the same father. Bruce escaped from bondage to join the Civil War and enlist with the Union Army. Though this did not work out for him, he was able to settle in Kansas and become a teacher. Near the end of the Civil War , Blanche moved to Missouri and organized the state's first school for black children. Pursuing his political ambitions, Bruce represented Mississippi as a Republican in the United States Senate from 1875 to 1881. He was also a successful plantation owner and a Trustee on the board of Howard University.