Black History Month Hiram Revels

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Updated: November 16, 2007

BLACK HISTORY MONTH

HIRAM REVELS

OUR ANNUAL TRIBUTE TO HIS ACHIEVEMENT

FEBRUARY 25, 1870

IMPORTANT DATE IN AMERICAN HISTORY

HONORABLE HIRAM REVELS

One day a year.

Every February 25th.

For the 5th consecutive year.

We veer away from Sports in the Box to note an important anniversary largely forgotten never Celebrated. Maybe it isn’t so far from sports and the Black Experience. Maybe part of it in powerful ways back then and now.

On February 25, 1870, in the well of the U.S. Senate Chamber in Washington, DC, African American Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi, raised his right hand, swore Allegiance to the Constitution, and walked into American History.

He became the first Black American to ever serve in our national government. Not only that but as U.S. Senator as high as American might attain short of The White House itself. A very special “club” the U.S. Senate.

Let’s call it one of the biggest under statements ever to say it wasn’t easy getting there. After an arduous trip from Mississippi to Washington, DC, late in January 1870, with his Credentials certifying him the new U.S Senator from that State –

- it was almost a month before the U.S Senate agreed to accept his Credentials and allow him to become U.S. Senator Hiram Revels, a process that is normally instantaneous and without dissent.

Then again Senator-elect Hiram Revels was no average U.S. Senator. He represented something the Founding Fathers never imagined would ever be conceivable. Indeed even after Emancipation seven years earlier no one ever thought of the possibility of African Americans becoming real citizens let alone being elected to High Office.

But here he was Hiram Revels arriving in Washington at the start of February 1870, getting himself a room and then proceeding to the Capitol. to deliver his Credentials and be sworn in, only to unleash a Whirlwind that shook the U.S. Congress to its very Foundation. What it conceivable, was it possible a Black man in the U.S. Congress.

Quite a few Members, after all got over the shock of Mr. Revels arrival, completely unprepared for such an Event, after they regained their “senses” (sic) many of these U.S. Senators said absolutely not. We will never accept his Credentials. Elected office in these United States was and is reserved for white men. Except it wasn’t any more.

All the U.S. Constitution says that to serve in the Senate one must be 35 years old, and a citizen. They forgot the to put in the word WHITE since it wasn’t even an issue until then. And the state of Mississippi Certified that Hiram Revels was a citizen of the Great State of Mississippi and as such had been elected by their state legislature ( before Senators were elected by voters ) to the U.S. Senate.

But of course it wasn’t that easy back then.

How could it be it isn’t even now

for an African American

No, a group of U.S. Senators used their power and the Senate rules to block acceptance of Hiram Revels Credentials a necessary prelude to being sworn in. They tried to press their view as a Black man he wasn’t a citizen and that since the Constitution did not specify Black men could serve in the Senate he couldn’t.

They were of course Bogus arguments but they would not be deterred. All through February some Senators fought to keep Revels out of the Senate, while other Senators fought just as hard to accept him. And they really did fight. Fist fights broke out on the Senate Floor.

Finally finally all the maneuvering of the Opponents exhausted, in one of the Glorious Moments in all of American history, on Friday, February 25, 1870, Hiram Revels’ Credentials were overwhelmingly accepted in a vote of the Senators, and Senator-elect Revels waiting just outside the Chambers was invited in by the Clerk and escorted, as is Senate Protocol

down the Center Aisle by a fellow Senator.

But few Senators were willing to go that far except for U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York State who took Mr. Revels’ arm and walked him down that Center Aisle in the very same Senate Chambers in use today, and brought him to the Well, before a packed gallery ….

…. who had gathered for the momentous event, and so on this day 136 years ago today, Hiram Revels, who had been born a free man, who was a college graduate, educator and ordained minister, became The Honorable Hiram Rhodes Revels U.S Senator from the State of Mississippi.

And proving again reality is better than fiction let us tell you whose Senate seat Hiram Revels was elected to and to complete their Senate term. The Senate seat he abandoned at the very start of the Civil War.

Jefferson Davis, of late president, of the non defunct Confederacy.

Always remember

Never forget.

POSTSCRIPT

Only 5 African Americans have ever served in the United States Senate. A contemporary of Senator Revels, Blanche Bruce also from Mississippi, and also in the 1870s. And in the 20th century, Senator Edward Brooke from Massachusetts in the 1960s and 1970s. And the only Black woman and first Democrat Carol Moseley-Braun in the 1990s. Today Barach Obama of Illinois has joined this distinguished group. So far only Senator Brooke served more than on term.

Far less than 1% of U.S. Senators in all of American history have been African American. Neither the Republicans and more surprisingly neither does the Democratic Party have any initiatives or special fund to seek out and elect Black Americans to the U.S. Senate, nor a policy position addressing the issue.

SENATOR REVELS CREDENTIALS CERTIFYING HIS ELECTION AS SENATOR ISSUED BY THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI ON JANUARY 25, 1870, ONE MONTH BEFORE THEY WERE ACCEPTED BY THE U.S. SENATE