Hiram Rhodes Revels: The First African-American to Serve in the United States Senate

Hiram Rhodes Revels, born in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1827, was a minister, educator, and politician who made history as the first African-American to serve in the United States Senate.

Hiram Rhodes Revels, the First Black American to Serve in the United States Senate

Hiram Rhodes Revels was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1827, to free parents. His father was a Baptist minister, and from an early age, Revels received an education from a local black woman. When he was 11, he moved in with his brother and was apprenticed as a barber, which was a steady and respected trade for African Americans at the time. After his brother’s death in 1841, his widow remarried and handed over the barber shop to Revel.

While working as a barber, Revels pursued his education at two different institutions. The first was the Beech Grove Quaker Seminary, a school established by Quakers in Union County, Indiana. He then attended the Union Literary Institute, also known as the Darke County Seminary, located in Randolph County, Indiana.

Revels’ religious calling became evident, and in 1845, he was ordained as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). He dedicated himself to preaching and teaching in various locations throughout the Midwest, including Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kansas. Despite encountering opposition, Revels persisted in his mission, even enduring imprisonment in Missouri in 1854 for preaching to African Americans. During this time, he also exercised his right to vote in Ohio.

In pursuit of further religious studies, Revels attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois from 1855 to 1857. He later became a minister in a Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland, while also serving as the principal of a black high school.

During the American Civil War, Revels served as a chaplain in the United States Army. As the United States Colored Troops were established, he played an instrumental role in recruiting and organizing two black Union regiments in Maryland and Missouri. He notably participated in the Battle of Vicksburg in Mississippi. After the war, he settled in Mississippi, continuing his ministry.

Letter dated January 25, 1870, from the Governor of the State of Mississippi and the Secretary of State of Mississippi that certified the election of Hiram Revels to the United States Senate.

Revels’ political career began in 1868 when he was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Mississippi State Senate. He served in the State Senate until 1870 when Mississippi was in the process of being readmitted to the Union after the Civil War, and the state’s legislature was tasked with electing two senators to represent the state in Congress. The Republicans, who had a majority in the legislature, decided to nominate Revels to fill one of the seats. This move was not without controversy, as many Democrats objected to the idea of a black senator.

Despite the opposition, Revels was elected to the Senate and was sworn in on February 25, 1870. During his time in the Senate, Revels was a staunch advocate for civil rights, and he worked to pass legislation to protect the rights of African Americans. He also vigorously supported racial equality and worked to reassure his fellow senators about the capability of African Americans.

Revels’ tenure in the Senate was not without its challenges. He faced discrimination and hostility from many of his fellow senators, and he was often subjected to racist remarks and insults. However, he remained steadfast in his commitment to civil rights and worked tirelessly to advocate for the rights of African Americans.

Revels’ time in the Senate was brief, as his term ended in March 1871. After leaving the Senate, Revels served as the president of Alcorn University in Mississippi and was involved in several other civic and political organizations.

Revels’ legacy as the first black American to serve in the Senate continues to inspire and influence generations of Americans. His election to the Senate marked a significant milestone in the struggle for civil rights and paved the way for future generations of African Americans to pursue political careers.

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

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