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Hiram Rhoades Revels
(September 27, 1827? Ė January 16, 1901)

 

Hiram Revels was a Protestant clergyman, president of Alcorn University (Mississippi), and the first black person elected to the U.S. Senate.

Born a free black in North Carolina, Revels was educated at Knox College (Illinois) and ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (A. M. E.) Church.  He worked as a pastor in various Northern and Border States, and as a principal of a school for black children in Baltimore, Maryland.  During the Civil War, once Congress authorized the use of blacks in the Union military, Revels organized two black volunteer regiments in Maryland and served as a chaplain to another black regiment in Mississippi.    

At the end of the war, Revels ministered to a black congregation in Natchez, Mississippi, where he was appointed a city alderman in 1868.  The next year, he was elected to the state senate, where he was one of the first 36 blacks who were seated in the previously white-only state legislature.  A few months later, in January 1869, the Republican-controlled state legislature elected Revels to complete the U.S. senatorial term of Jefferson Davis, who had resigned from the Senate in 1861 when Mississippi seceded from the Union and who soon became president of the Confederacy.  Revels was sworn in as the nationís first black senator on February 25, 1870, two days after Mississippi had been readmitted to the Union under the provisions of Congressional Reconstruction.

At the termís conclusion on March 3, 1871, Revels left the Senate to become the first president of Alcorn University (Mississippi), the first land-grant college for black students.  In 1874, he was dismissed by the collegeís board of directors.  He soon joined the Democratic Party and helped to oust the Republicans from power in the state.  In gratitude, his new political allies in the Democratic Party reappointed him in 1876 as president of Alcorn, where he served until his retirement in 1881.  He then taught theology at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where he also ministered at a local A. M. E. Church.  He died on January 16, 1901, in Aberdeen, Mississippi.

In addition to Revels, fifteen other black men served in Congress during the Reconstruction era, including Blanche Bruce, a former slave who was also elected to the Senate as a Republican from Mississippi (1875-1881).  After Revels and Bruce left office, however, it was nearly 100 years until the next black, Republican Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, was elected to the U.S. Senate (1967-1979).  The first black woman and black Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate was Carol Moseley-Braun (1993-1999).

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