Hiram Rhodes Revels: The First Black Congressman

By | February 18, 2020

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Hiram Revels, an African-American senator from Mississippi, taking oath of office in Washington. (Getty Images)

This Black History Month, we'd be remiss to overlook incredible life of Hiram Rhodes Revels, who was sworn into the U.S. Senate on February 25, 1870, just five years after the end of the Civil War. Revels was truly a man ahead of his time: He was not only America's first African-American congressman but also a Methodist minister, college administrator, and a chaplain for the United States Colored Troops fighting in the Civil War. Just how did Revels break Congress's color barrier? To answer that question, we must take another look at America's Reconstruction era

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The U.S. took a few big steps toward racial equality right after the Civil War, only to backslide a few years later. (history.com)

The Reconstruction Era And Racial Equality

The decades leading up to the American Civil War (and the war itself) were marked by terrible racial inequality in the United States. Slavery was a common practice in the southern states, and the slave trade was a thriving industry. After Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the Union victory in the Civil War, however, the real work began. The early years of Reconstruction saw the passage of several key laws that were designed to turn the country into an interracial democracy, and for a time, it looked like tremendous progress in racial equality was being made. Sadly, it didn't last long. Within a few years, it became clear that the laws granting rights for all were meaningless gestures as more laws were passed to further erode the rights of racial minorities in the U.S.