Meet the first black men in leadership roles in U.S. politics

Farida Dawkins January 17, 2018

Photo credit: Biography

Hiram Rhodes RevelsFirst Black and Native American Senator

Revels was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina on September 27, 1827, as a free man. He received his education in the form of tutoring from an unidentified Black woman. In 1841 he attended the Union County Quaker Seminary in Indiana and Darke County Seminary in Ohio. In 1845 Revels was ordained as a minister and proceeded with preaching and became a religious teacher. Interestingly enough, Revels was imprisoned in 1854 for preaching to Blacks.  From 1855 to 1857 he studied religion at Knox College in Illinois.  He later became a minister in an Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland and served as a principal in an all-Black high school. Revels served as a chaplain in the United States Army and during his enlistment formulated two Black union regiments during the Civil War in Maryland and Missouri; he also fought at the battle of Vicksburg in Mississippi.

In 1865 Revels joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1866, he became the permanent pastor at a church in Natchez, Mississippi all the while founding schools for the Black youth.

In 1868, Revels was elected as the alderman in Natchez.  In 1869 he was elected to represent Adams County in the Mississippi Senate.  Then in 1870, Revels was elected as a Senate member by a vote of 81 to 15.  Finally, on February 25, 1870, Revels was elected as the first African-American member of United States Senate. As a senator, he strongly advocated for racial equality though was unsuccessful in formulating substantial change for Blacks.  After his one-year Senate appointment, Revels served as the president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College now Alcorn State University while being an instructor of philosophy, served as Mississippi secretary of state ad interim, remained active in church ministry, served briefly as an editor for the Southwestern Christian Advocate, and taught Theology at Shaw College renamed Rust College.

Revels died on January 16, 1901, while attending a church conference at Aberdeen, Mississippi. He was 73 years old.

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