There Have ONLY Been Ten African-American U.S. Senators

Hiram Rhodes Revels, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Hiram Rhodes Revels, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

#1 Hiram Rhodes Revels First African American to Serve in Congress (R- Mississippi, February 1870 - March 1871)

The first African American to be sworn in as a U.S. Senator was Hiram Rhodes Revels, in 1870.

Hiram Rhodes Revels was born, a free man, on September 27, 1827 in Fayetteville, NC.  He started his education in North Carolina, despite the fact that slavery was still in existence and it was illegal for Blacks to get an education in the state.  He later moved to Indiana and then to Ohio where he attended seminary schools.  In 1845, at the age of eighteen, Revels became an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.  He was elected an elder to the AME Indiana Conference in 1849.

Revels began to travel around the country, preaching and educating African Americans.  He seemed to be willing to go places and do things he was not "supposed" to do!  

He became pastor of a church in St. Louis, Missouri despite the fact that it was illegal for free African Americans to live there.  Revels tried to not instigate slaves to riot or run away, because that was the concern, despite his efforts he was arrested in 1854 for preaching to Black people.

He was released and then moved to Baltimore to serve with the Presbyterian Church there.  He became the principal of a black school there and later went on to study at Knox College in Illinois. In the early 1850s he married Phoebe Bass and they went on to have six children.

As if these accomplishments were not enough, Revels became active during the Civil War.  He helped to recruit two regiments from Maryland and, in 1862, when Black soldiers were allowed to fight he served as a chaplain to a Black regiment in Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi.

Hiram Revels was certainly a busy and committed man and perhaps all of his work prepared him for what was about to happen, in his life, next.

After the war, Revels eventually settled in Natchez, Mississippi in 1866.  His background in education and his skills in preaching and organizing made him someone who could standout as a leader, across racial lines.  He became an alderman in Natchez in 1868 and in 1869 he was elected to the Mississippi state senate.

In 1861, prior to the beginning of the Civil War, Albert Brown and Jefferson Davis, both of Mississippi, vacated their seats in the United States Senate.  Jefferson Davis would go on to become the President of the Confederate States of America.  

In 1870, when the Mississippi state government sought readmission to the Union and to replace the seats vacated by Brown and Davis, members of the state legislature chose Hiram Revels to fill Albert Brown's seat.

The fact that an African American was elected as a U.S. Senator from Mississippi where, just a short time earlier, that state was partly represented by the future President of the Confederate States of America, was remarkable!

Revels came to Washington, D.C. and presented his credentials to Congress on February 23, 1870.

He met immediate resistance from Democrats (mostly from border states) who did not want an African American as a U.S. Senator.  

Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri did not secede from the Union, like other slave states, during the beginning of the Civil War, but they did maintain slavery until the Constitutional Amendment or individual state actions abolished slavery in their borders.  The opposition to Revels was led by senators from Kentucky and Delaware.

They argued that the state of Mississippi was not under a civil government; that the Constitution required senators to be citizens for a period of time before taking office; and that even free African Americans were not citizens in the U.S. before the 1866 Civil Rights Act, so Revels could not be a U.S. Senator.

Supporters of Revels argued that the rationale was ridiculous, that Revels had voted in Ohio for years, and that the amendments to the Constitution, in fact, made him a citizen.

Sen. Charles Sumner (D- MA) declared, "The time has passed for argument. Nothing more need be said. For a long time it has been clear that colored persons must be senators."  

Revels was seated as a United States Senator on a vote of 48 - 8.

(His story is also captured in our book, Stories about Black History: Vol. 3)

#2 Blanche K. Bruce (R- Mississippi, 1875 - 1881)

Blanche K. Bruce, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Blanche K. Bruce, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

He escaped from slavery at the very beginning of the Civil War.  Blanche Bruce became the first African American senator to serve a full term.  He was elected by the Mississippi state legislature in 1874 and served until 1881.

On February 14, 1879 he became the first African American to preside over the U.S. Senate.  He died in Washington, D.C. in 1898.

Note: U.S. Senators were chosen by state legislatures until the 17th Amendment of 1913, when their elections were changed to popular elections, instead of legislative elections.

After Blanche K. Bruce, there would not be another African American to serve as a U.S. senator until 1967.

#3 Edward Brooke (R- Massachusetts, 1967 - 1979)

Edward Brooke was the first African American to be elected by popular vote.  

He was elected in 1967 and served two full terms (1967 - 1979).  Brooke was a republican from Massachusetts.  He was also a WWII veteran, a graduate of Howard University, and he received his degree in law from Boston University.

Capitol, Red and Black Ink, LLC.

#4 Carol Moseley Braun (D- Illinois, 1993 - 1999)

She became the first African American woman to serve as a U.S. Senator, in 1993.  

A total of five women were elected to the U.S. Senate, in that election cycle, and they began serving in January of 1993.  Carol Moseley Braun served from 1993 - 1999, representing the state of Illinois, and was an advocate of education and gun control.

#5 Barack Obama (D- Illinois, 2005 - 2008)

President Barack Obama, White House Video

President Barack Obama, White House Video

As amazing as it may seem, only four other African Americans served as U.S. Senators before Barack Obama was elected to the Senate in 2004.  He served as Senator from Illinois until his election as the 44th President of the United States in November of 2008.

#6 Roland Burris (D- Illinois, 2009 - 2010)

Roland Burris was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Barack Obama.  He served from January of 2009 to November of 2010.  He was not a candidate in the special election to permanently fill the seat, so he was eventually replaced by another person who won the special election to fill the rest of Barack Obama's unexpired term.

Burris, prior to being appointed to the Senate, was the first African American to win a statewide election in Illinois, in 1978, as comptroller of that state, and was a former state Attorney General.

#7 Tim Scott (R- South Carolina, 2013 - Present)

The first African American to represent a southern state since Blanche K. Bruce,  Tim Scott, from South Carolina, was appointed to the Senate in January of 2013 and elected in 2014 in a special election.

He held a state office in the South Carolina house of representatives and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, before being appointed to the U.S. Senate.  He was also reelected (in 2016) and will serve through January 3, 2023.

U.S. Capitol, Red and Black Ink, LLC.

#8 William "Mo" Cowan (D- Massachusetts, Feb. 2013 - Jul. 2013)

On February 1, 2013, Cowen was appointed (as a democrat) to temporarily fill the vacancy caused by John Kerry's appointment as U.S. Secretary of State.  Cowan became the second African American, from Massachusetts, to serve in the U.S. Senate.

#9 Cory A. Booker (D- New Jersey, Oct. 2013 - Present)

Senator, Cory Booker, U.S. Senate Historical Office

Senator, Cory Booker, U.S. Senate Historical Office

Born in Washington, D.C., Booker is a graduate of Stanford University and he attended The Queen"s College, University of Oxford, in England, as a Rhodes Scholar.  

He was also a member of the Newark City Council from 1998 - 2002 and he served as mayor of Newark, NJ from 2006 - 2013.

Booker took the oath of office, as a U.S. Senator, on October 31, 2013.  His election was a special election (given the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg).  

His election marked the first time an African American and an American of Hispanic descent, Robert Menendez, served, simultaneously, as U.S. Senators from the same state.  Booker was reelected in 2014 and will serve until his next election (his current term ends on January 3, 2021).

#10 Kamala Harris (D- California, January 2017 - Present)

Kamala Harris is only the second woman of African-American descent to serve as a U.S. Senator.  She is a graduate of Howard University and the University of California (College of Law).  She served as District Attorney for San Francisco from 2004 - 2011 and was the Attorney General of the state of California from 2011 - 2016, before being elected to the U.S. Senate.  Her term runs from January 2017 to January 3, 2023.

With the election of Kamala Harris, this marks the first time 3 (Senators Scott, Booker and Harris) African Americans have served in the U.S. Senate at the same time.  Note also that only six states have elected African Americans to the U.S. Senate: Mississippi, Massachusetts, Illinois, South Carolina, New Jersey and California.

 

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Sources:

History, Art and Archives.  United States House of Representatives. Revels, Hiram Rhodes.

http://history.house.gov/People/Listing/R/REVELS,-Hiram-Rhodes-(R000166)/

Unites States Senate.  Breaking New Ground: African American Senators.

http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/history/h_multi_sections_and_teasers/Photo_Exhibit_African_American_Senators.htm

 United States Senate: Classic Senate Speeches.  http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/Speeches_Revels.htm

See Hiram Revels' first speech as a U.S. Senator.  http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/RevelsGeorgia.pdf

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=R000166

All sources accessed October and November 2013 or March 2017.

Danita Smith