First African-American senator in late 1800s represented Mississippi

  • Published
  • By Richard Leon
  • African American History Month, Committee Chairman
Some might say my office is a mini-museum of African-American history. There's a Tuskegee Airmen statue and President Obama's framed picture on top of a bookshelf. On a lower shelf, there are African American coin and stamp collections. I have framed autographed pictures of the Tuskegee Airmen hanging on my walls. There's also Bessie Coleman and a large framed picture of the 41st and 42nd Congress of the United States. The picture of the congressmen is titled, "The First Colored Senator and Representatives." It normally draws some quiet attention when one enters my office. The few comments sometimes made normally center around, "Who are they?" Minus the curly wigs and skin color, they would be easily mistaken for some of the important white men in American history.

On one particular day, I invited a newly-made friend from out of town to my office to relax a while from the official business he was there for. He commented on the office decor and moved closer towards the picture of the congressmen. Asking the same usual question mentioned earlier, I explained to him they were the first African-American congressmen and senator of the United States. He asked what year they served. When I responded it was back in the late 1800s, he was shocked. He had no idea African-Americans were allowed to serve in Congress that far back. Upon closer scrutiny, he noticed Sen. Hiram Revels was from Mississippi.

"No way!" he exclaimed. "I'm from Mississippi and I never heard of him. Looking at me apparently for some sort of explanation or clarification, I could only assure him it was in fact true and not a fabrication. He was floored and resolved he would learn more about African-American history.

Hiram Rhodes Revels (Sept. 27, 1827-Jan. 16, 1901) was the first African-American to serve in the United States Senate. He was the first African-American in the U.S. Congress as well. To date, only six African-Americans have served in the United States Senate, including President Obama and his Illinois Senate seat replacement, Sen. Roland Burris. One congressman, Sen. Blanche Bruce, was born a slave. Revels, also an ordained minister, served as a chaplain in black Union regiments during the Civil War. After resigning his Senate seat two months prior to his term ending, he was appointed the first president of Alcorn Agriculture and Mechanical College, now known as Alcorn State University. He also served as Mississippi's secretary of state ad interim.