Black History Month
This Week We Honor
Trailblazers & Inventors
1st black female astronaut, doctor, & entrepreneur
1st Black Congressmen
during the Reformation
First Black Congressmen
The first African Americans to serve in the United States Congress were Republicans elected during the Reconstruction Era. After slaves were emancipated and granted citizenship rights, freedmen gained political representation in the Southern United States for the first time. White Democrats regained political power in state legislatures across the South and worked to restore white supremacy. By the presidential election of 1876, only three state legislatures were not controlled by white Democrats.
The Compromise of 1877 completed the period of Redemption by white Democratic Southerners, with the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. State legislatures began to pass Jim Crow laws to establish racial segregation and restrict labor rights, movement and organizing by blacks. They passed some laws to restrict voter registration, aimed at suppressing the black vote.
From 1890–1908, Democratic state legislatures in the South disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites from voting by passing new constitutions or amendments, or other “Jim Crow” laws related to more restrictive electoral and voter registration and electoral rules.
The Democratic Party essentially dominated the “Solid South” until the 1960s. As a result of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the U.S. Congress, despite filibusters by the Democratic Party, passed laws in the mid–1960s to end segregation and enforce constitutional civil rights and voting rights.
Jefferson Franklin Long
(1869-1871 GA Republican)
Rep. Jefferson Franklin Long (R-GA) He was born a slave in Knoxville, Georgia. Self-educated and trained as a tailor, he became a successful businessman in Macon, Georgia, once the Civil War had ended. After Georgia was readmitted into the Union in 1870, Jefferson Long was elected to fill a vacant seat in the House of Representatives. Long served in the House from January 16 to March 3, 1871. He was the first African American to speak on the House floor. Long did not run for reelection and returned to Macon, where he resumed his business career.
Joseph Hayne Rainey
(1869-1873 SC Republican)
Born into slavery in South Carolina, Rep. Joseph Rainey (R-SC), was the first African American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and was the first black man to preside over the House. While enslaved, Rainey worked as a barber in South Carolina and in Philadelphia where he married in 1859. During the Civil War, he worked for the Confederacy until 1862 when he and his wife escaped and went to Bermuda. After the war he and his family returned to Charleston. In 1870 he was elected to the House of Representatives to complete the term of a congressman the House had refused to seat. He was reelected three times and served until 1879.
Robert Carlos DeLarge
(1871-1873 SC Republican)
Rep. Robert Carlos DeLarge (R-SC) was born to free parents in Aiken, South Carolina. De Large was elected to the House of Representatives and served from March 1871 until he lost his seat early in 1873 when the man he defeated successfully challenged the result of the election.
Robert Brown Elliott
(1871-1873 SC Republican)
Rep. Robert Brown Elliott (R-SC) was born in England. In 1867, Elliot moved to South Carolina, where he practiced law and entered State politics. Elliot was elected to Congress in 1870 and reelected two years later, serving from 1871 until he resigned in November 1874. While serving in Congress, Elliot advocated a bill that later became the Civil Rights Act of 1875.
Josiah Thomas Walls
(1871-1873 FL Republican)
Rep. Josiah Thomas Walls (R-FL), was born a slave in Winchester, Virginia, in 1842. In July 1863, in Philadelphia, he enlisted in the Third Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops. Discharged in October 1865 in Florida, he remained in that state. Walls was elected to represent Florida in Congress in 1870 but lost his seat early in 1873 when the candidate he had defeated successfully challenged his election. Walls had won an at-large seat in 1872, so he returned to Congress and won again in 1874, but early in 1876 he lost his seat once more as a result of another successful challenge to his election.
Benjamin Sterling Turner
(1871-1873 AL Republican)
Rep. Benjamin Sterling Turner (R-AL), was born a slave in 1825 in North Carolina. Turner moved to Alabama with his owner and was sold when he was twenty years old. During the Civil War, Turner raised enough money to purchase some property, and after emancipation he worked as a merchant and a farmer. In 1870, he successfully campaigned for an Alabama seat in the House of Representatives. He served one term in the Forty-second Congress, from 1871 to 1873.
Hiram Rhodes Revels
(1869-1871 MS Republican)
Sen. Hiram Rhodes Revels (R-MS), was born free in North Carolina. Revels served as an army chaplain for a black regiment during the Civil War and helped establish schools for the freed people. After the War, Revels moved to Mississippi. In 1869 the Mississippi legislature elected him to the United States Senate, in which he was the first African American member. After serving from February 1870 to March 1871, Revels continued his dedication to education.
lives that changed lives
Samuel Morris (1872-1893), was born in Liberia as Prince Kaboo, the son of a Kru tribal chieftain. There was much fighting between his tribe and neighboring tribes. When Kaboo was fifteen years old, a neighboring tribe defeated Kaboo’s tribe and took him captive, demanding his father pay a ransom. While he was held captive, Kaboo was often tortured and beaten with poisonous vines. He was hopeless and near the point of death.
One day, as he was about to be whipped again, Kaboo said a great light appeared before him. A voice thundered from the light and told Kaboo to run. Immediately, his wounds were healed and he had strength to run. He followed the light into the jungle as his captors searched for him. Over the next few weeks, the light guided Kaboo at night and showed him where to hide during the day.1
Once Kaboo left the jungle, he found a small plantation owned by white foreigners. Much to his surprise, the first person Kaboo met was a Kru boy, about his age, who helped Kaboo to get a job on the plantation and start a new life. At night, Kaboo would see this boy on his knees praying. One night Kaboo asked him what he was doing. The boy replied, “I am talking to God. He is my Father.”2 The next Sunday, they attended a church together where a missionary woman was telling the story about Saul’s conversion and the light from heaven. Upon hearing the story, Kaboo shouted, “I have seen that light!”3 and gave his life to Jesus. Ms. Knolls, the church’s Sunday school teacher, began to disciple Kaboo and help him learn English. Kaboo was soon baptized and received a new name, Samuel Morris, after the main supporter and benefactor of Ms. Knolls’ missionary work.
As Samuel continued to grow in his faith, he became hungry to learn more about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. One missionary told him how they had learned about the Holy Spirit from a man named Stephen Merritt in New York. Samuel declared, “Then I am going to New York!”
After waiting at the docks for several days, Samuel eventually found passage on a ship to New York in exchange for work. The crew soon discovered Samuel didn’t know how to sail, and they abused and beat him, but Samuel endured it all with patience and responded by going out of his way to be kind and forgiving. They saw Samuel pray frequently, even during dangerous storms. Attracted to the profound peace Samuel had, the crew, one by one, started giving their lives to the Lord Jesus.
One time, a fight broke out between two crew members and one of them threatened to kill the other with a machete. Samuel quietly intervened, confidently looking the man in the eye, and the crisis was averted. Later, that same man fell ill and was near death. Samuel prayed for him and he was healed. He repented of his ways and became a new man. By the end of the five-month journey across the Atlantic, the crew was radically different.
Once he arrived in New York, Samuel inquired where to find Stephen Merritt. A stranger told him that Mr. Merritt lived on the other side of town, and offered to take Samuel there for a dollar. When they arrived, the man asked for his dollar and Samuel replied, “Stephen Merritt pays all my bills now.” Stephen Merritt graciously handed over the dollar bill.4 Mr. Merritt had to leave for another appointment, so Samuel waited at Mr. Merritt’s mission. That evening, Mr. Merritt returned to find Samuel surrounded by seventeen men, all laying prostrate before the Lord, repenting of their sins.5 Mr. Merritt was amazed. He welcomed Samuel into his house, and provided food and clothing for him.
Mr. Merritt had to conduct a funeral the next day and he invited Samuel to come along. Along the way, they stopped to pick up two other clergymen who were to accompany them in their coach. These men were reluctant and shocked to be asked to ride in the same coach with an African boy. On the way to the funeral, Samuel suggested that they pray. He knelt right there in the coach and began to “talk with his Father.” The purity and simplicity of his prayer produced such a burning of the Holy Spirit in each of the men there that they were convicted of their own spiritual shabbiness.
A Sunday school class was so impacted by Samuel’s relationship with the Lord they decided to fund his way to Bible school. Mr. Merritt arranged for him to go to Taylor University in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Five days after their offering, Samuel was on his way.
Immediately, this young man made an impact on Taylor University. When the president asked him which room he wanted to stay in, Samuel replied, “If there is a room nobody wants, give that to me.”6 On Sunday, he found his way to a black church in town. As he spoke to the people, many were touched. The minister of the church said, “No such visitation of the Holy Spirit had ever been witnessed by that congregation.”7
That winter, the cold weather caused Samuel to become ill. He passed away in January 1893 and on his face was a look of extreme joy and peace. The best summary of his short twenty-year life can be found on his gravestone. It reads, “Samuel Morris . . . Famous Christian Mystic. Apostle of Simple Faith. Exponent of the Spirit-filled Life.”8
1. Lindley Baldwin, Samuel Morris (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1942), 7–15.
2. Wilbur Konkel, Jungle Gold: The Amazing Story of Sammy Morris and True Stories of African Life (Salem, OH: Schmul Publishing Co., Inc., 1993), 17.
3. Baldwin, Samuel Morris, 16.
4. Stephin Merritt and Thaddeus Constantine Reade, Samuel Morris: A Spirit Filled Life (Albion, MI: The Golden Rule Publishing Co., 1908), 7.
5. Baldwin, Samuel Morris, 43.
6. Ibid., 54.
7. Ibid., 59.
8. Ibid., 74.