Black Americans in Congress

Since 1870, when Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi and Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina became the first African Americans to serve in Congress, a total of 140 African Americans have served as U.S. Representatives or Senators. This Web site, based on the book Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007, contains biographical profiles of former African-American Members of Congress, links to information about current black Members, essays on institutional and national events that shaped successive generations of African Americans in Congress, and images of each individual Member, supplemented by other historical photos.

Member Profiles

Member Profiles

Read biographical profiles of former African-American Representatives, Delegates, and Senators that focus on their congressional careers. These profiles also contain suggestions for further reading and references to Members’ manuscript collections.

Black Americans in Congress: An Introduction

Black Americans in Congress: An Introduction

The arrival of Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi and Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina on Capitol Hill in 1870 ranks among the great paradoxes in American history; just a decade earlier, these African Americans’ congressional seats were held by southern slave owners. Moreover, the U.S. Capitol, the center of legislative government, conceived by its creators as the “Temple of Liberty”—had been constructed with the help of enslaved laborers.

“The Fifteenth Amendment in Flesh and Blood,” 1870–1887

“The Fifteenth Amendment in Flesh and Blood,” 1870–1887

These pioneering African-American Representatives symbolized a new democratic order in the United States, demonstrating not only courage but also relentless determination. They often braved elections marred by violence and fraud. With nuance and tact they balanced the needs of black and white constituents in their Southern districts, and they argued passionately for legislation promoting racial equality.

“The Negroes’ Temporary Farewell,” 1887–1929

“The Negroes’ Temporary Farewell,” 1887–1929

By the 1890s, most Black Americans had either been barred from or abandoned electoral politics in frustration. Advocacy for blacks in Congress became substantially more difficult. After North Carolina Representative George White’s departure from the House of Representatives in March 1901, no African American served in the U.S. Congress for nearly three decades.

Keeping the Faith, 1929–1970

Keeping the Faith, 1929–1970

With his election to the U.S. House of Representatives from a Chicago district in 1928, Oscar De Priest of Illinois became the first African American to serve in Congress since George White of North Carolina left office in 1901. But while the victory symbolized renewed hope for African Americans struggling to regain a foothold in national politics, it was only the beginning of an arduous journey.

Permanent Interests, 1971–2007

Permanent Interests, 1971–2007

The modern era of African Americans’ more than 140-year history in Congress began in 1971. During this period, black Members enjoyed a tremendous surge in numbers, reflecting a larger historical process, as minority groups and women exercised their new freedom to participate in American society. The post-1970 generation of Black Americans in Congress marked a watershed in American history—a transition from a period of prolonged protest to full political participation.

Historical Essays

Read essays that provide historical context about four distinct generations of African Americans in Congress. Among the topics discussed in each essay are institutional developments, legislative agendas, social changes, and national historical events that have shaped the experiences of black Members of Congress since Reconstruction.

Educational Resources

This page features materials designed to help teachers and students use the information presented in Black Americans in Congress in their classrooms. It includes lesson plans as well as activities on photographs, objects, and memorable quotations.

Historical Data

In this section, users can find tables and appendices of historical data about Black Americans in Congress, including: African Americans in Congress by Congress; committee and subcommittee leaders; party leadership positions; chairmen and chairwomen of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Artifacts

View artifacts from the House Collection related to the history of Black Americans in Congress, from portraits to political campaign buttons.

Map

Use the interactive map to compile information on the representation of Black Americans in Congress, such as the number of Members who served from a particular state or region and when they served.

Teacher Book Request Form

(PDF) Complimentary copies of the Office of the Historian publications Women in Congress and Black Americans in Congress are available for educators, subject to availability.

Glossary

What is the difference between apportionment and realignment? What is a discharge petition? What does the word quorum mean and how does it relate to the House of Representatives? These and other relevant congressional terms are defined in this glossary.