African Americans in the United States Congress: Wikis


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Since 1870, 123 African Americans have served in the United States Congress. This figure includes five non-voting members of the House of Representatives who represented the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In addition, in 1868, one candidate was elected to the House but was not seated due to an election dispute.


History of African American representation

Reconstruction and Redemption

The right of Blacks to vote and to serve in the United States Congress was established after the Civil War by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment (ratified December 6, 1865), abolished slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment (ratified July 9, 1868) made all people born or naturalized in the United States citizens. The Fifteenth Amendment (ratified February 3, 1870) forbade the denial or abridgment of the right to vote on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, and gave Congress the power to enforce the law by appropriate legislation.

In 1866, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and the Reconstruction Act, which dissolved all governments in the former Confederate states with the exception of Tennessee, and divided the South into five military districts to protect the rights of newly freed blacks. The act required that the former Confederate states ratify their constitutions conferring citizenship rights on blacks or forfeit their representation in Congress.

As a result of these measures, blacks acquired the right to vote across the Southern states. In several states (notably Mississippi and South Carolina), blacks were the majority of the population, and were able, by forming coalitions with pro-Union whites, to take control of the state legislatures, which at that time elected members of the United States Senate. In practice, however, only Mississippi elected black Senators. On February 25, 1870, Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first black member of the Senate and thereby also the first black member of the Congress.

Blacks were a majority of the population in many congressional districts across the South. In 1870, Joseph Rainey of South Carolina became the first black member of the United States House of Representatives and thereby the first directly elected black member of Congress. Blacks were also elected from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.

All of these Reconstruction era black senators and representatives were members of the Republican Party. To many blacks, the Republicans represented the party of Abraham Lincoln and of the Emancipation Proclamation, while the Southern Democrats represented the party of slavery and secession. Until 1876, the Republicans made genuine efforts to ensure that southern blacks were able to vote.

After the disputed Presidential election of 1876 between Democratic Samuel J. Tilden, governor of New York, and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, governor of Ohio, an agreement between Democratic and Republican factions was negotiated, resulting in the Compromise of 1877. Under the compromise, Democrats conceded the election to Hayes and promised to acknowledge the political rights of blacks; Republicans agreed to no longer intervene in southern affairs and promised to appropriate a portion of federal monies toward southern projects.


With the southern states "redeemed", Democrats gradually regained control of Southern legislatures and restricted the rights of most blacks and many poor whites to vote.

By the 1880s legislators increased restrictions on black voters through voter registration and election rules. Nonetheless, in 1888 John Mercer Langston, president of Virginia State University at Petersburg, was elected to the US Congress as the first African American from Virginia (and the last for nearly a century.)

From 1890 to 1908, starting with Mississippi, white Democrats passed new constitutions in ten Southern states with provisions that restricted voter registration by Literacy tests, poll taxes, and residency requirements that forced hundreds of thousands of people from registration rolls, and prevented most blacks and many poor whites from voting. Some whites were exempted from literacy tests by such strategies as the grandfather clause, basing eligibility on an ancestor's status as of 1866, for instance.

Southern state and local legislatures passed Jim Crow laws that segregated transportation, public facilities and daily life. Finally, racial violence in the form of lynchings and race riots increased in frequency.

The last black congressman elected from the South in the nineteenth century was George Henry White of North Carolina, elected in 1896 and re-elected in 1898. His term expired in 1901, the same year that William McKinley, the last president to have fought in the Civil War, died. No blacks served in Congress for the next 28 years, and none represented any southern state for the next 72 years.

The modern era

The Great Migration of blacks from the rural south to northern cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland from 1910 to 1940 began to produce black-majority Congressional districts in the North, where blacks could exercise their right to vote. In the two waves of the Great Migration, millions of blacks moved north and west and became urban.

In 1928, Oscar De Priest won the 1st Congressional District of Illinois (the South Side of Chicago) as a Republican, becoming the first black Congressman of the modern era. DePriest was also the last black Republican in the House for 56 years.

The election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 led to a shift of black voting loyalties from Republican to Democrat, as Roosevelt's New Deal programs offered economic relief to blacks. From 1940 to 1970, nearly five million blacks moved north and also west, especially to California in the second wave of the Great Migration. By the 1960s, virtually all black voters were Democrats and most were voting in states outside the former Confederacy.

It was not until passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a culmination of years of effort by African Americans and allies, that blacks within the Southern states recovered their ability to exercise their rights to vote and to live with full civil rights. Legal segregation ended. Accomplishing voter registration and redistricting to implement the sense of the law took more time.

The only Southern cities to have black majority districts were Atlanta, Houston, Memphis and New Orleans. The only Southern rural area to have a black majority district was the Mississippi Delta area in Mississippi.

Until 1992, most black House members were elected from inner-city districts in the North and West: Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, New Jersey, Philadelphia and St. Louis all elected at least one black member. Following the 1990 census, the districts needed to be redrawn due to the population shifts of the country. However, there were various court decisions to have districts created with the intent of creating some where the majority of the population were African Americans. In order to comply with the courts, the districts were redrawn by a process called gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is when the districts are drawn, the end results an oddly shaped map to encompass a particular group. In this case, grotesquely shaped districts were created to link widely separated black communities. Due to this method, several black members of the House were elected from Alabama, Florida, rural Georgia, rural Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia for the first time since Reconstruction. Additional black majority districts were also created in this way in California, Maryland and Texas, thus increasing the number of black-majority districts. The process was supported by both parties. The Democrats saw it as a way to connect to their black voters easily, which historically voted for the Democrats. The Republicans saw it as a way to win seats more easily, since many of the Democratic voters were moved out of their districts. By the year 2000, this resulted in the Republicans' holding a majority of white-majority House districts. However, the Democratic Party had become identified as "black" in Southern states, thus alienating white voters from the Democratic Party.

Since the 1940s, when decades of the Great Migration resulted in millions of African Americans having migrated from the South, no state has had a majority of African-American residents. Because of this, an African-American candidate cannot rely on the black vote alone to be elected to the Senate. This means the candidate must reach out to other races and groups to become elected to the United States Senate and to many congressional seats. Despite this issue, four African Americans have been elected to the Senate since the 1940s: Edward W. Brooke, a liberal Republican from Massachusetts; and Carol Moseley Braun, Barack Obama, and Roland Burris (appointed to a vacancy) - all Democrats from Illinois.

Many more African Americans have created supporting coalitions to be elected as mayors of cities (including those without a black majority). (See List of first African-American mayors.)

List of African Americans in the United States Congress

United States Senate

In Reconstruction era

Senator Party State Term Lifespan Former slave
Hiram Rhodes Revels Republican Mississippi 1870-1871 1822-1901 No
Blanche Bruce Republican Mississippi 1875-1881 1841-1898 Yes

In modern era

Senator Party State Term Lifespan
Edward William Brooke, III Republican Massachusetts 1967-1979 1919-
Carol Moseley Braun Democrat Illinois 1993-1999 1947-
Barack Obama Democrat Illinois 2005-2008 1961-
Roland Burris Democrat Illinois 2009 - 1937-

United States House of Representatives

In Reconstruction era

Representative Party State Term Lifespan Former slave
John Willis Menard[1] Republican Louisiana 1868 1838-1893 No
Joseph Rainey Republican South Carolina 1870-1879 1832-1887 Yes
Jefferson F. Long Republican Georgia 1870-1871 1836-1901 Yes
Robert C. De Large Republican South Carolina 1871-1873 1842-1874 No
Robert B. Elliott Republican South Carolina 1871-1874 1842-1884 No
Benjamin S. Turner Republican Alabama 1871-1873 1825-1894 Yes
Josiah T. Walls Republican Florida 1871-1873, 1873-1875, 1875-1876 1842-1905 Yes
Richard H. Cain Republican South Carolina 1873-1875, 1877-1879 1825-1887 No
John R. Lynch Republican Mississippi 1873-1877, 1882-1883 1847-1939 Yes
James T. Rapier Republican Alabama 1873-1875 1837-1883 No
Alonzo J. Ransier Republican South Carolina 1873-1875 1834-1882 No
Jeremiah Haralson Republican Alabama 1875-1877 1846-1916 Yes
John Adams Hyman Republican North Carolina 1875-1877 1840-1891 Yes
Charles E. Nash Republican Louisiana 1875-1877 1844-1913 No
Robert Smalls Republican South Carolina 1875-1879, 1882-1883, 1884-1887 1839-1915 Yes
James E. O'Hara Republican North Carolina 1883-1887 1844-1905 No
Henry P. Cheatham Republican North Carolina 1889-1893 1857-1935 Yes
John Mercer Langston Republican Virginia 1890-1891 1829-1897 No
Thomas E. Miller Republican South Carolina 1890-1891 1849-1938 No
George W. Murray Republican South Carolina 1893-1895, 1896-1897 1853-1926 Yes
George Henry White Republican North Carolina 1897-1901 1852-1918 No

In modern era

Representative Party State Term Lifespan
Oscar Stanton De Priest Republican Illinois 1929-1935 1871-1951
Arthur W. Mitchell Democrat Illinois 1935-1943 1883-1968
William L. Dawson Democrat Illinois 1943-1970 1886-1970
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Democrat New York 1945-1967, 1967-1971 1908-1972
Charles Diggs Democrat Michigan 1955-1980 1922-1998
Robert N.C. Nix, Sr. Democrat Pennsylvania 1958-1979 1898-1987
Augustus F. Hawkins Democrat California 1963-1991 1907-2007
John Conyers Democrat Michigan 1965-present 1929-
Bill Clay Democrat Missouri 1969-2001 1931-
Louis Stokes Democrat Ohio 1969-1999 1925-
Shirley Chisholm Democrat New York 1969-1983 1924-2005
George W. Collins Democrat Illinois 1970-1972 1925-1972
Ron Dellums Democrat California 1971-1998 1935-
Ralph Metcalfe Democrat Illinois 1971-1978 1910-1978
Parren Mitchell Democrat Maryland 1971-1987 1922-2007
Charles B. Rangel Democrat New York 1971-present 1930-
Yvonne Brathwaite Burke Democrat California 1973-1979 1932-
Cardiss Collins Democrat Illinois 1973-1997 1931-
Barbara Jordan Democrat Texas 1973-1979 1936-1996
Andrew Young Democrat Georgia 1973-1977 1932-
Harold Ford, Sr. Democrat Tennessee 1975-1997 1945-
Julian C. Dixon Democrat California 1979-2000 1934-2000
William H. Gray, III Democrat Pennsylvania 1979-1991 1941-
Mickey Leland Democrat Texas 1979-1989 1944-1989
Bennett M. Stewart Democrat Illinois 1979-1981 1912-1988
George W. Crockett, Jr. Democrat Michigan 1980-1991 1909-1997
Mervyn M. Dymally Democrat California 1981-1993 1926-
Gus Savage Democrat Illinois 1981-1993 1925-
Harold Washington Democrat Illinois 1981-1983 1922-1987
Katie Hall Democrat Indiana 1982-1985 1938-
Major Owens Democrat New York 1983-2007 1936-
Ed Towns Democrat New York 1983-present 1934-
Alan Wheat Democrat Missouri 1983-1995 1951-
Charles Hayes Democrat Illinois 1983-1993 1918-1997
Alton R. Waldon, Jr. Democrat New York 1986-1987 1936-
Mike Espy Democrat Mississippi 1987-1993 1953-
Floyd H. Flake Democrat New York 1987-1998 1945-
John Lewis Democrat Georgia 1987-present 1940-
Kweisi Mfume Democrat Maryland 1987-1996 1948-
Donald M. Payne Democrat New Jersey 1989-present 1934-
Craig Anthony Washington Democrat Texas 1989-1995 1941-
Barbara-Rose Collins Democrat Michigan 1991-1997 1939-
Gary Franks Republican Connecticut 1991-1997 1953-
William J. Jefferson Democrat Louisiana 1991-2009 1947-
Maxine Waters Democrat California 1991-present 1938-
Lucien E. Blackwell Democrat Pennsylvania 1991-1995 1931-2003
Eva M. Clayton Democrat North Carolina 1992-2003 1934-
Sanford Bishop Democrat Georgia 1993-present 1947-
Corrine Brown Democrat Florida 1993-present 1946-
Jim Clyburn Democrat South Carolina 1993-present 1940-
Cleo Fields Democrat Louisiana 1993-1997 1962-
Alcee Hastings Democrat Florida 1993-present 1936-
Earl Hilliard Democrat Alabama 1993-2003 1942-
Eddie Bernice Johnson Democrat Texas 1993-present 1935-
Cynthia McKinney Democrat Georgia 1993-2003, 2005-2007 1955-
Carrie P. Meek Democrat Florida 1993-2003 1926-
Mel Reynolds Democrat Illinois 1993-1995 1952-
Bobby Rush Democrat Illinois 1993-present 1946-
Robert C. Scott Democrat Virginia 1993-present 1947-
Walter Tucker Democrat California 1993-1995 1957-
Mel Watt Democrat North Carolina 1993-present 1945-
Albert Wynn Democrat Maryland 1993-2008 1951-
Bennie Thompson Democrat Mississippi 1993-present 1948-
Chaka Fattah Democrat Pennsylvania 1995-present 1956-
Sheila Jackson-Lee Democrat Texas 1995-present 1950-
J. C. Watts Republican Oklahoma 1995-2003 1957-
Jesse Jackson, Jr. Democrat Illinois 1995-present 1965-
Juanita Millender-McDonald Democrat California 1996-2007 1938-2007
Elijah Cummings Democrat Maryland 1996-present 1951-
Julia Carson Democrat Indiana 1997-2007 1938-2007
Danny K. Davis Democrat Illinois 1997-present 1941-
Harold Ford, Jr. Democrat Tennessee 1997-2007 1970-
Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick Democrat Michigan 1997-present 1945-
Gregory W. Meeks Democrat New York 1998-present 1953-
Barbara Lee Democrat California 1998-present 1946-
Stephanie Tubbs Jones Democrat Ohio 1999-2008 1949-2008
William Lacy Clay, Jr. Democrat Missouri 2001-present 1956-
Diane Watson Democrat California 2001-present 1933-
Frank Ballance Democrat North Carolina 2003-2004 1942-
Artur Davis Democrat Alabama 2003-present 1967-
Denise Majette Democrat Georgia 2003-2005 1955-
Kendrick Meek Democrat Florida 2003-present 1966-
David Scott Democrat Georgia 2003-present 1946-
G. K. Butterfield Democrat North Carolina 2004-present 1947-
Emanuel Cleaver Democrat Missouri 2005-present 1944-
Al Green Democrat Texas 2005-present 1947-
Gwen Moore Democrat Wisconsin 2005-present 1951-
Yvette D. Clarke Democrat New York 2007-present 1964-
Keith Ellison Democrat Minnesota 2007-present 1963-
Hank Johnson Democrat Georgia 2007-present 1954-
Laura Richardson Democrat California 2007-present 1962-
André Carson Democrat Indiana 2008-present 1974-
Donna Edwards Democrat Maryland 2008-present 1958-
Marcia Fudge Democrat Ohio 2008-present 1952-
Delegate Party State Term Lifespan
Walter E. Fauntroy Democrat District of Columbia 1971-1991 1933-
Melvin H. Evans Republican Virgin Islands 1979-1981 1917-1984
Eleanor Holmes Norton Democrat District of Columbia 1991-present 1937-
Victor O. Frazer Independent Virgin Islands 1995-1997 1943-
Donna Christian-Christensen Democrat Virgin Islands 1997-present 1945-

See also


  1. ^ John W. Menard was elected to fill an unexpired term. He was permitted to address the House but was not seated.


  • Bailey, Richard. Black Officeholders During the Reconstruction of Alabama, 1867-1878. New South Books, 2006. ISBN 1-58838-189-7. Available from author.
  • Brown, Canter Jr. Florida's Black Public Officials, 1867-1924. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998. ISBN 0585098093
  • Clay, William L. Just Permanent Interests Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1991. Amistad Press, 1992. ISBN 1567430007
  • Dray, Philip. Capitol Men the Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen. Houghton Mifflin Co, 2008. ISBN 9780618563708
  • Foner, Eric. Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction. 1996. Revised. ISBN 0-8071-2082-0.
  • Freedman, Eric. African Americans in Congress: A Documentary History. CQ Press, 2007. ISBN 0872893855
  • Gill, LaVerne McCain. African American Women in Congress Forming and Transforming History. Rutgers University Press, 1997. ISBN 0813523532
  • Hahn, Steven. A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South From Slavery to the Great Migration. 2003. ISBN 0-674-01169-4
  • Haskins, James. Distinguished African American Political and Governmental Leaders. Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx Press, 1999. ISBN 1573561266
  • Middleton, Stephen. Black Congressmen During Reconstruction : A Documentary Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002. ISBN 0313065128
  • Rabinowitz, Howard N. Southern Black Leaders of the Reconstruction Era. University of Illinois Press, 1982. ISBN 0252009290

External links

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