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Who were the first African Americans elected to Congress?

October 19th

440px-Hiram_Rhodes_Revels_-_Brady-Handy-(restored)October 19, 1870 — Senator Hiram Revels (pictured right) of Mississippi, and Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina, are the first African Americans elected to US House of Representatives today.

Since then, a total of 140 African Americans have served as U.S. Representatives or Senators.

Hiram Revels (September 27, 1827[note 1] – January 16, 1901) was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). A Republican politician, and also a college administrator, he was born free in North Carolina, he later lived and worked in Ohio, where he voted before the Civil War.

He was elected as the first African American to serve in the United States Senate, and was the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress. He represented Mississippi in the Senate in 1870 and 1871 during the Reconstruction era. After serving in the Senate, he was appointed as the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University), 1871-1873 and 1876 to 1882. Later he served again as a minister.

Joseph_RaineyJoseph Rainey (June 21, 1832 – August 1, 1887) was the first black presiding officer of the House of Representatives. Born into slavery in South Carolina, he was freed in the 1840s by his father purchasing the freedom of his entire family and himself. Revels and Rainey were both members of the Republican Party.
When the Civil War started, Rainey was among the free black people who were forced by the Confederates to work on fortifications in Charleston, SC. He worked as a cook and laborer on blockade runner ships. In 1862, he and his family escaped to Bermuda, settling in the town of St. George. Rainey worked as a barber, while his wife became a successful dressmaker with a shop. They became respected members of the community.

Words of Wisdom

We [Black Americans] are earnest in our support of the Government. We are earnest in the house of the nation’s perils and dangers; and now, in our country’s comparative peace and tranquility, we are earnest for our rights.

— US Representative Joseph Hayne Rainey, 1870

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