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The First African Americans to Serve in Congress

First African American to serve in Congress

Since 1870, 172 African Americans have served as U.S. Representatives, Delegates, or Senators. This streak began with Sen. Hiram Revels of Mississippi and Rep. Joseph Rainey of South Carolina. Senator Revels and Representative Rainey both made history as their seats were previously held by slave owners.

Although it seems these two pioneers of the United States government opened a floodgate to allow all black citizens of America to join the ranks of congress, it wasn’t so simple. In the 1890’s, ‘most Black Americans had either been barred from or abandoned electoral politics in frustration,’ according to an article on history.house.gov entitled The Negroes’ Temporary Farewell: Jim Crow and the Exclusion of African Americans from Congress, 1887–1929. The article shares that ‘Although three black Representatives served in the very next Congress, the total number of African Americans serving on Capitol Hill diminished significantly as the congressional focus on racial equality faded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.’

It was not an easy road to pave, or to walk, but many African American men and woman have since broke through the wall that kept them from forming their country. A separate article from history.house.gov entitled Permanent Interests: The Expansion, Organization, and Rising Influence of African Americans in Congress, 1971–2019 shares the significant change that has been made, stating: ‘By the turn of the 21st century, African-American Members of Congress represented districts across the nation, pursued diverse policy interests, and employed an array of legislative strategies… the growth in the number of black office holders in the House and the Senate has helped firmly secure a voice for the African-American community in the legislative branch.’