Dr. Samori Swygert: Unsung African American Politicians of the 1800′s Revealed
By: Dr. Dorothy Swygert & Dr. Samori Swygert
It’s refreshing to learn about great accomplishments in our rich African American legacy. The more stories that we unearth and recover re-instills confidence, pride, and motivation.
The importance in debuting our heritage is because the current school curricula are not incorporating African American contributions into the history of America with the same emphasis as whites.
Our children need positive historical figures to identify and relate to. White children can identify with Columbus, Kennedy, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Bill Gates, and a plethora of other names. However, we should not have our history reduced to just a few.
My mother who is a graduate of Tuskegee University, and New York University had composed a list of African American politicians that don’t usually get the fanfare and recognition they should in history, and during Black History Month. I would like to share this list with you.
The list is extensive, and I will break them down into a few parts. Some of you may be familiar with these names, and some of us may be unfamiliar with these names. This can serves as a guide for you to conduct your own in-depth research if you’re curious.
Okay let’s go…
By 1867, the Radical Republican’s Plan of Reconstruction divided the South into five military districts to protest the rights of the ex-slaves. Under this law the federal commanders had power superseding authority granted to State governments. The federal troops were stationed in the South to prevent many ex-confederates from participating fully in Reconstruction. This plan of reconstruction enabled blacks the right to exercise the rights afforded them by the Constitution. There were three groups that participated in Radical Reconstruction, the Freedmen, the Scalawags and the Carpetbaggers.
Blacks had not participated in the political process before, but they were eager to learn how to exercise their newly acquired rights. The Slave Codes had prevented most slaves from acquiring an education, but now they were eager to get an education, as well as to participate in government. A few blacks had learned to read and write through secret means.
This period of black participation in politics was often defined as a chaotic time where ignorant, dumb and incapable men sat in high political offices. Contrary to this view, many blacks who participated in Radical Reconstruction were intelligent men. They were eager to rebuild the South for the benefit of all citizens. Blacks in political offices appropriated money for some of the first public schools, buildings and roads.
With the aid of federal troops, blacks were elected to serve as Congressmen and other high offices of trust. Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, was elected to serve as Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana after the impeachment of Republican Governor, Henry Clay Warmoth. His occupancy of the gubernatorial chair for forty-two days was the most impetuous times he had experienced, yet he was able to execute the duties of this office.
Pinchback was born a slave in 1837 on a plantation in Mississippi. He was later manumitted with his mother, where they migrated to Ohio. From the age of twelve, Pinchback was alone and making his own living. He quickly gave up his boat life when he heard about the firing on FortSumter. Eager to aid the North, he enlisted in the Union Army.
After the war, Pinchback took up residence in Louisiana. In 1867, he organized the Fourth Ward Republican Club of Northern Louisiana. Later, this club elected him to the State Republican caucus. From that point on, Pinchback was a major figure in politics. As a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention he introduced the 13th Amendment which warranted civil rights to all people of the state.
He served as a State Senator. In 1868, Pinchback served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Chicago. He served as Director of the New Orleans School Board. In the peak of his political career, Pinchback was elected U. S. Senator of Louisiana from a contested race held in 1873. He was finally denied this seat and was paid $16,666 for payment as salary until the denial was official. Later he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, but again he was denied his seat.
There were other outstanding blacks who pursued political careers during the Reconstruction era. Robert Smalls, who was famous for securing the “Planter,” a transport vessel, from the Confederacy served as a State Senator and a U. S. Congressman from South Carolina.
Blanche Bruce (Blanche Kelso Bruce) was elected U. S. Senator from Mississippi on March 4, 1875. Prior to this office, he served as Sergeant-at-arms in the Senate of Mississippi. After completing his term as U. S. Senator, Bruce was appointed Registrar of the treasury and was twice appointed Recorder of Deeds in Washington, D. C.
Hiram Rhoades Revels was elected U. S. Senator form Mississippi. He completed Jefferson Davis term of office from February 25, 1879 to March 3, 1881. He served as a State Senator of Mississippi before his election as U. S. Senator. A native of North Carolina born in 1822, Revels left this state in later life to seek education in Ohio. He studied at a Quaker Seminary. Finally, he achieved his goal when he graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.
James T. Rapier was a U. S. Congressman from Alabama. Rapier had been successful in convoking a colloquy with men of labor in that state. He organized the first Republican Party in Alabama with a platform calling for free press, free speech and establishment of a public school system. He carried these ideas in his paper, “The Sentinel.” Rapier received his education at MontrealCollege and the University of Glasgow, Scotland.
John Mercer Langston served as U. S. Congressman from Virginia from 1889 to1891. A son of a slave master, John Mercer Langston was educated as a lawyer. He served in many public offices: minister-resident to Haiti, school inspector general of the Freedman’s Bureau and President of the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute.
Robert Brown Elliott was elected U. S. Congressman from South Carolina. He is remembered as one of the most brilliant Congressmen to have served in the 42nd and 43rd Congresses. Elliott was a free born black of Boston. He was educated in the private schools of Boston and the British West Indies, and graduated with high rank at Eton in 1853. As a Congressman, he fought arduously and courageously to enforce the 14th Amendment concerning the rights of blacks as citizens. After serving as a U. S. Congressman, Elliott moved to New Orleans where he practiced law until the end of his life.
Richard Cain, a free born black, served two terms as a U. S. Congressman from South Carolina. He attended Wilberforce College for two years. Cain was a devout Methodist minister who left New York in 1865 to minister to the newly freed slaves throughout South Carolina. He served as State Senator from South Carolina for four years. Later he was elected U. S. Congressman from that state. Cain was an active politician who took pride in participating in events which would enhance the opportunities of blacks. He organized, “The Missionary Record,” a newspaper which became one of the most popular papers in South Carolina.
John Roy Lynch was U. S. Congressman who was elected three times during the Reconstruction Period from the state of Mississippi (43rd, 44th and 47th Congress). John Lynch was elected to the 43rd and 44th Congresses where he served two full terms. However, his election to the 47th Congress was contested and he was denied his seat. His denial of seat was believed to have been caused by acts of chicanery on the part of the state. Born a slave, and freed after the Civil War, Lynch had successfully educated himself. This self-education placed him in the spotlight of some politicians who appointed him as Justice of the Peace in Natchez County, Mississippi.
His political career was soon evident in 1869 when he was elected to the Mississippi State House of Representatives. Later, Lynch was elected as U.S. Congressman. After serving as a member of the U. S. Congress, Lynch was appointed fourth auditor for the Treasury in the Navy.
This concludes part 1 of Unsung African American politicians