HIRAM REVELS Biography - Polititians


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Name: Hiram Rhodes Revels                                                                     
Born: 27 September 1822 Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S.                                     
Died: 16 January 1901 Aberdeen, Mississippi, U.S.                                             
Hiram Rhodes Revels (September 27, 1822 – January 16, 1901) was the first                   
African American to serve in the United States Senate. Since he preceded any                   
African American in the House, he was the first African American in the U.S.                   
Congress as well. He represented Mississippi in 1870 and 1871 during                           
Reconstruction. As of 2008, Revels was one of only five African Americans ever                 
to have served in the United States Senate.                                                   
Revels was born free in Fayetteville, North Carolina, of a free father of mixed               
white, black, and possibly a slave mother who was later emancipated. He was                   
tutored by a black woman for his early education. In 1838 he went to live with                 
his brother, Elias B. Revels, in Lincolnton, North Carolina, and was apprenticed               
as a barber in his brother's shop. Elias Revels died in 1841, and his widow,                   
Mary Revels, turned over her assets to Hiram before she remarried.                             
He attended the Union County Quaker Seminary in Indiana, and from 1856-57, Knox               
College in Galesburg, Illinois. He also studied at a black seminary in Ohio.                   
Revels was ordained a minister in 1845. As a minister in the African Methodist                 
Episcopal Church, Revels preached in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee,                       
Missouri, Kansas, and Maryland in the 1850s. "At times, I met with a great deal               
of opposition," he later recalled. "I was imprisoned in Missouri in 1854 for                   
preaching the gospel to Negroes, though I was never subjected to violence." In                 
1845 he became a minister in Baltimore, Maryland and set up a private school.                 
As a chaplain Revels helped raise two black Union regiments during the Civil War               
in Maryland and Missouri, and took part at the battle of Vicksburg in                         
In 1865 , Revels returned to his ministry and was assigned briefly to AME                     
churches in Leavenworth, Kansas, and New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1866, he was                   
given a permanent pastorship in Natchez, Mississippi, where he settled with his               
wife and five daughters, continued his ministerial work, and founded schools for               
black children.                                                                               
During Reconstruction, Revels was elected alderman in Natchez in 1868, and he                 
was elected to represent Adams County in the Mississippi State Senate in 1869.                 
As John R. Lynch reports, "so far as known he [Revels] had never voted, had                   
never attended a political meeting, and of course, had never made a political                 
speech. But he was a colored man, and presumed to be a Republican, and believed               
to be a man of ability and considerably above the average in point of                         
intelligence." [Lynch 1913] In January 1870, Revels presented a remarkable                     
opening prayer in the state legislature. As Lynch says, "That prayer—one of the             
most impressive and eloquent prayers that had ever been delivered in the [Mississippi]         
Senate Chamber—made Revels a United States Senator. He made a profound                       
impression upon all who heard him. It impressed those who heard it that Revels                 
was not only a man of great natural ability but that he was also a man of                     
superior attainments." At the time, each state senate elected the state's US                   
senators. Revels was elected by a vote of 81 to 15 in the Mississippi State                   
Senate to fill the last year of the unexpired term of one of the state's two                   
senators in the U.S. Senate; the seat had once been held by Jefferson Davis, the               
former president of the Confederate States of America.                                         
The election of Revels was met with opposition from Southern conservative                     
Democrats who cited the Dred Scott Decision which was considered by many to have               
been a central cause of the American Civil War. They argued that no black man                 
was a citizen before the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. Because election                 
to the Senate required nine years' prior citizenship, opponents of Revels                     
claimed he could not be seated, having been a citizen by law for only two years.               
Supporters of Revels countered by stating that the Dred Scott decision applied                 
only to those blacks who were of pure African blood. Revels was of mixed black                 
and white ancestry, and therefore exempt, they said, and had been a citizen all               
his life. This argument prevailed, and on February 25, 1870, Revels, by a vote                 
of 48 to 8, became the first black man to be seated in the United States Senate.               
Revels spoke for compromise and moderation. A vigorous advocate of racial                     
equality, Revels tried to reassure Senators about the capability of blacks. In                 
his maiden speech to the Senate on March 16, 1870, in a plea to reinstate the                 
black legislators of the Georgia General Assembly who had been illegally ousted               
by white representatives, he said, "I maintain that the past record of my race                 
is a true index of the feelings which today animate them. They aim not to                     
elevate themselves by sacrificing one single interest of their white fellow                   
citizens" (Ploski 18).                                                                         
He served on both the Committee on Education and Labor and the Committee on the               
District of Columbia. Much of the Senate's attention focused on Reconstruction                 
issues. While Radical Republicans called for continued punishment of ex-Confederates,         
Revels argued for amnesty and a restoration of full citizenship, provided they                 
swore an oath of loyalty to the United States.                                                 
Revels (seated) replaces Jefferson Davis (left) in Senate. Harper's Weekly Feb                 
19, 1870                                                                                       
Revels's term lasted one year, February 1870 to March 3, 1871. He quietly,                     
persistently--although for the most part unsuccessfully--worked for equality. He               
spoke against an amendment proposed by Senator Allen G. Thurman (D-Ohio) to keep               
the schools of Washington, D.C., segregated. He nominated a young black man to                 
the United States Military Academy, although he was subsequently denied                       
admission. Revels was successful, however, in championing the cause of black                   
workers who had been barred by their color from working at the Washington Navy                 
Revels was praised in the newspapers for his oratorical abilities. His conduct                 
in the Senate, along with that of the other African Americans who had been                     
seated in the House of Representatives, also prompted a white contemporary,                   
James G. Blaine, to say, "The colored men who took their seats in both Senate                 
and House were as a rule studious, earnest, ambitious men, whose public conduct               
would be honorable to any race"                                                               
Revels resigned two months before his term expired and was appointed the first                 
president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State                     
University) located in Claiborne County, Mississippi, where he also taught                     
philosophy. In 1873, Revels took a leave of absence from Alcorn to serve as                   
Mississippi's secretary of state ad interim.                                                   
He was dismissed from Alcorn in 1874 when he campaigned against the reelection                 
of Governor of Mississippi Adelbert Ames. He was reappointed in 1876 by the new               
Democratic administration and served until his retirement in 1882.                             
On Nov. 6, 1875, Revels, as a Republican, wrote a letter to Republican President               
Ulysses S. Grant that was widely reprinted. Revels denounced Ames and the                     
Carpetbaggers for manipulating the Black vote for personal benefit, and for                   
keeping alive wartime hatreds:                                                                 
Since reconstruction, the masses of my people have been, as it were, enslaved in               
mind by unprincipled adventurers, who, caring nothing for country, were willing               
to stoop to anything no matter how infamous, to secure power to themselves, and               
perpetuate it..... My people have been told by these schemers, when men have                   
been placed on the ticket who were notoriously corrupt and dishonest, that they               
must vote for them; that the salvation of the party depended upon it; that the                 
man who scratched a ticket was not a Republican. This is only one of the many                 
means these unprincipled demagogues have devised to perpetuate the intellectual               
bondage of my people.... The bitterness and hate created by the late civil                     
strife has, in my opinion, been obliterated in this state, except perhaps in                   
some localities, and would have long since been entirely obliterated, were it                 
not for some unprincipled men who would keep alive the bitterness of the past,                 
and inculcate a hatred between the races, in order that they may aggrandize                   
themselves by office, and its emoluments, to control my people, the effect of                 
which is to degrade them.                                                                     
Revels remained active in his ministry. For a time, he served as editor of the                 
Southwestern Christian Advocate and taught theology at Shaw College (now Rust                 
College), founded in 1866 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where Revels and his                 
family made their home. Hiram Revels died on January 16, 1901, while attending a               
church conference in Aberdeen, Mississippi.                                                   
Revel's daughter Susan edited a newspaper in Seattle, Washington. Horace Cayton,               
co-author of Black Metropolis, and labor leader Revels Cayton were his grandsons.