Hiram Rhodes Revels, was appointed by the Mississippi state legislature to an unexpired term in 1870. He was the first African American to serve in the United States Senate, and in the U.S. Congress overall. He represented Mississippi in 1870 and 1871 during Reconstruction.
NOTE: Prior to the 17th Amendment in 1913, U.S. Senators were elected by state legislatures.
(Photo: Source: Wikipedia)
On February 25, 1870, visitors in the Senate galleries burst into applause as senator-elect Hiram Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, entered the chamber to take his oath of office. Those present knew that they were witnessing an event of great historical significance. Revels was about to become the first African American to serve in the Senate.
Born 42 years earlier to free black parents in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Revels became an educator and minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. During the Civil War, he helped form regiments of African American soldiers and established schools for freed slaves.
After the war, Revels moved to Mississippi, where he won election to the state senate. In recognition of his hard work and leadership skills, his legislative colleagues elected him to one of Mississippi's vacant U.S. Senate seats as that state prepared to rejoin the Union.
Revels' credentials arrived in the Senate on February 23, 1870, and were immediately blocked by a few members who had no desire to see a black man serve in Congress.
Masking their racist views, they argued that Revels had not been a U.S. citizen for the nine years required of all senators. In their distorted interpretation, black Americans had only become citizens with the passage of the 1866 Civil Rights Act, just four years earlier. Revels' supporters dismissed that statement, pointing out that he had been a voter many years earlier in Ohio and was therefore certainly a citizen.
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