Hiram Revels and the Genesis of Black Political Representation

Hiram Revels pictured with Mississippi senator Blanche Bruce and Frederick Douglass under the banner of “Heroes of the Colored Race.”

On February 25, 1870Hiram Revels was seated in the United States Senate.

A story, perhaps apocryphal, has it that when Jefferson Davis left the U.S. Congress, fellow Senator Simon Cameron told him, “I believe, in the name of God that a Negro some day will come and occupy your seat.”

Cameron’s prediction came true, and in 1870, North Carolina native Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first black member of Congress, taking Davis’s seat representing Mississippi.

Revels was born a free black in 1822 in Fayetteville. By 1838, he had moved to Lincolnton. For a few years he worked as a barber’s apprentice for his brother, and after his brother’s death, he managed the shop for a time before moving out of North Carolina to pursue other opportunities.

After leaving the Senate in 1871, Revels served as acting secretary of state in Mississippi in 1873 and, from 1876 to 1882, as president of Alcorn Agricultural College.

An ordained African Methodist Episcopal minister, Revels preached and lectured widely. While attending a church conference in Aberdeen, Mississippi, in January1901 he died suddenly.

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