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African American Congressmen

(This page was developed by a Berea College student as part of a course on Chesnutt)

Although African American played a role in politics from the earliest days of their arrival in the New World, opportunities to win elected office were essentially non-existant until after the Civil War. Between 1869 and 1901, there were twenty blacks in the U.S. House of Representatives and there were two U.S. Senators. The number of African Americans in the U.S. Congress would not be this high again until the 1960's.  The first two African American Senators were Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce. With the end of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow laws, African Americans in many communities lost voting rights and the chance to win elected office. The third African American to serve as a U.S. Senator was Edward E. Brooke who was elected in 1966.

Below is information about selected African American politicians from the ninteenth century.

 U.S. Senators:

There were two African Americans elected to office who represented the state of Mississippi.


Hiram Revels


Elected: February 25,1870 Photo of H. Revels


 Blanche K. Bruce


Elected: March 5, 1875 Photo of B. Bruce
  • born free in North Carolina
  • attended Knox College in Illinois
  • school principal in Baltimore (before settling in Mississippi)
  • planter
  • sheriff
  • state legislator
  • county school superintendent
  • served in the Union Army
  • studied in seminary
  • rose to the post of presiding elder in the African Methodist Church
  • elected to the Natchez City Council
  • Revel at age 42 became the 1st African American Senator in History of 1870 (not a full term)
  • 1st Black to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate
  • tax assessor for Bolivar Co. Mississippi
  • sheriff
  • superintendent of public schools
  • by 1874, owned a 1,000 acre farm
  • 1880-proposed for Vice President (withdrew in favor of Chester Arthur )
  • appointed registrar of the U.S.
  • Treasury by President James A. Garfield
  • elected on 3 committees: Pensions; Manufactures;  Education and Labor
  • attempted to convince the senators to seat Governor Pinchback
  • Organized Missouri first school for blacks
  • sergeant-at-arms of the state senate

Edward E. Brooke was the third Senator who served in 1966.

U.S. House of Representatives:
Robert Smalls -  mulatto (father was a popular white man)

Thomas Ezekiel Miller

George Washington Murray -  "there is not a drop of white blood running in his veins, but his voice did not show his African origin" Tindall, George B., South Carolina Negros 1877-1900. U of South Carolina Press.  1952.

Jonathan A. Baxter -  elected in 1884

Bruce H. Williams -  elected in 1884

John W. Bolts -  elected in 1898


Governor Pinchback

  • son of white father and black mother (mulatto)
  • set free by father
  • attended school in Cincinnati
  • worked on river boats
  • enlisted in Union Army
  • Captain in the Louisiana Native Guards
  • Active in Republican Party politics Louisiana 1867 -
held office as governor for 35 days till the Ten Acts of the Legislature became Law


 Photo of Pinchback



    Encyclopedia of African - American. Vol. 4.
    Encyclopedia of African Culture and History.  Vol. 2
    Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. U of N. Carolina Press, Chapel Hill London. 1989.
Mattson Mark, Asante Molefik, Historical and Cultural Atlas of African Americans. Macmillan Publishing Co.,NY
Tindall, George B., South Carolina Negros 1877-1900.  U of S Carolina Press. 1952. (Blanche K. Bruce) (Governor Pinchback) (H. Revels)

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  Page created January 1999
Last update: Jan, 29 1999
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