February 25, 1870: Hiram Revels becomes the first African-American to serve in the U.S. Senate.
He was the first of a total six black senators, and one of the only two elected before 1967. The other was Blanche Bruce, and both were elected to the Senate during Reconstruction, before the “Compromise” of 1877 left blacks in the South basically disenfranchised.
Revels served as a Republican Senator for the state of Mississippi, taking the place of Albert G. Brown, who had withdrawn from the Senate in 1861. He was not of full African ancestry, which made him exempt from the Dred Scott decision, allowing him to run despite loud Southern Democrat opposition. In the above Harper’s Weekly cartoon, Revels replaces Jefferson Davis (another former Mississippi Senator). Throughout his one-year term, he quietly fought for racial equality - although in the end, his intelligence and conduct (“proof” that an African-American could be competent) made a larger effect on his fellow Senators than any legislation he was involved in.
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