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Hiram Rhodes Revels
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U.S. Senator
    (September 27, 1827-January 16, 1901)
    Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina
    US Senator from Mississippi (1870-71)
    First African-American to serve as US Senator
    Minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church
    First President of Alcorn State University (1871-73,1876-82)
    His birth year is sometimes given as 1822.
    He was often described (presumably for maximum irony) as having replaced Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the Senate, but he was actually appointed to the Senate seat that had been held by Albert Brown when Mississippi seceded.
    Most of his efforts to promote civil rights while in the Senate – such as trying to integrate the schools in Washington, DC – were defeated.
    He was arrested in Missouri for preaching the gospel to a black congregation (1854).
    During the Civil War, he helped organize two black Union regiments from Missouri and Maryland and served as an Army chaplain.
    When he and his family were seated in a Kansas train’s smoking car despite paying for first class tickets, he successfully protested and they were moved to first class.
    Democrats in the Senate tried to prevent him from taking his seat by arguing that the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, which ruled that black Americans were not citizens, remained in effect until the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868, so Revels had not been a citizen for the nine years required to serve as a Senator.
    After the effort failed and he was sworn in, the New York Times reported, ‘Mr. Revels showed no embarrassment whatever, and his demeanor was as dignified as could be expected under the circumstances. The abuse which had been poured upon him and on his race during the last two days might well have shaken the nerves of any one.’
    He did persuade the Department of War to hire black mechanics at the Washington Navy Yard (1871).

Credit: C. Fishel


 
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