Josiah Thomas Walls
Walls was the first African American to serve Congress in his State. He was the only black representative from Florida until the early 1990s.
Born on December 30, 1842 and suspected to be the son of his master Dr John Walls, Walls served in the US army for most of his life from the time the war broke out.
He was discharged in 1865 and lived in Florida working at a sawmill and teaching at the Freedmen’s Bureau in Gainesville. He amassed a lot of wealth to purchase a 60–acre farm outside the city.
Walls was fascinated with the political opportunities in Florida being one of the few educated men in Florida’s Reconstruction–Era.
He started his political career by representing north–central Florida’s Alachua County in the 1868 Florida constitutional convention. In that same year, Walls ran a successful campaign for state assemblyman.
The following fall, he was elected to the state senate and took his seat as one of five freedmen in the 24–man chamber in January 1869.
Walls attended the Southern States Convention of Colored Men in 1871 in Columbia, South Carolina.
Walls went against former slave owner and Confederate veteran Silas L. Niblack in the general election. Niblack went full throttle on Wall’s capabilities saying a former slave was not fit to serve in Congress.
The campaign at a point turned violent and “a would–be assassin’s bullet missed Walls by inches at a Gainesville rally, and Election Day was tumultuous. As one Clay County observer noted, Florida had been “turned upside down with politics and the election.”
Walls won by 627 more votes and was sworn into office on March 4, 1871.
He was in office from 1871 to 1873 and served on the Committee on the Militia.