JOHN MERCER LANGSTON Biography - Polititians


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Name: John Mercer Langston                                                             
Born: 14 December 1829 Louisa County, Virginia                                         
Died: 15 November 1897 Washington, D.C.                                               
John Mercer Langston (December 14, 1829 – November 15, 1897) was an American         
abolitionist and U.S. Congressman from Virginia. He was one of the first blacks       
in the United States to be elected to public office when in 1855 he was elected       
as a town clerk in Ohio.                                                               
Langston was born in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Ralph Quarles, a white       
plantation owner, and Lucy Langston, a slave of mixed African and Native               
American background. After his parents died when Langston was five, he and his         
brothers moved to Oberlin, Ohio, to live with family friends. He enrolled in           
Oberlin College at the age of fourteen and earned bachelor's and master's             
degrees from the institution. Denied admission into law school, Langston then         
studied law under attorney Philemon Bliss and was admitted to the Ohio bar in         
He became actively involved in the Abolitionism movement, organizing antislavery       
societies locally and at the state level. He helped runaway slaves to escape to       
the North along the Ohio part of the Underground Railroad. He was a founding           
member and president of the National Equal Rights League, which fought for black       
voting rights.                                                                         
During the Civil War, Langston recruited African Americans to fight for the           
Union Army, enlisting hundreds of men for duty in the United States Colored           
Troops. After the war, he was appointed inspector general for the Freedmen's           
Bureau, a Federal organization that assisted freed slaves.                             
Langston moved to Washington, D.C., in 1868 to establish and serve as dean of         
Howard University's law school—the first black law school in the country. He was     
appointed acting president of the school in 1872. He was appointed by President       
Ulysses S. Grant a member of the board of health of the District of Columbia,         
and was elected its secretary in 1875. In 1877 Langston left to become U.S.           
Minister to Haiti. He returned to Virginia in 1885 and was named the first             
president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State             
In 1888 he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican.       
He lost to his Democratic opponent, but contested the results of the election.         
After an 18-month fight, he was declared the winner and given the seat in             
Congress. He served for the remaining six months of the term, and then lost his       
bid for reelection. Langston was the first black person elected to Congress from       
Virginia, and he was the only one for another century.                                 
Oklahoma's Langston University is named in his honor, as is the John Mercer           
Langston Bar Association in Columbus, Ohio, Langston Middle School in Oberlin,         
Ohio, the former John Mercer Langston High School in Danville, Virginia, and           
John M. Langston High School Continuation Program in Arlington, Virginia.             
Langston was the great-uncle of poet Langston Hughes.