Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Edition for Educators—Black Americans in Congress in their Own Words

Congressional Delegation to Visit Alabama/tiles/non-collection/P/PA2011_07_0013b.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Following the February 1965 arrest of Martin Luther King, Jr., a multiracial, bipartisan congressional delegation traveled to Selma, Alabama to observe voter registration efforts and investigate the “Camp Selma” prison compound.

Since 1870, more than 130 African Americans have served in the House. Some, like Joseph Rainey of South Carolina and Adam Clayton Powell of New York, left an enduring mark on the institution through historic firsts and groundbreaking legislation. The history of African-American Members of Congress is shaped by changes in American society and in the House. In celebration of Black History Month, we invite you to learn more about these Representatives in their own words.

“We [African Americans] are earnest in our support of the Government. We are earnest in the house of the nation’s perils and dangers; and now, in our country’s comparative peace and tranquility, we are earnest for our rights.”
—Joseph Hayne Rainey of South Carolina

Photographic portrait of Parren James Mitchell./tiles/non-collection/2/2002_014_003-2.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
A lifelong activist who carried on his family’s tradition of public service, Parren Mitchell won election to the U.S. House in 1970, becoming the first African–American Representative from Maryland.

“If [an African American] is a man, he is entitled to all the rights and privileges of any other man. There can be no grades of citizenship under the American flag.”
—John Adams Hyman of North Carolina

“I’ve always got my mouth open, sometimes my foot is in it, but it is always open. It serves a purpose; it digs at the white man’s conscience.”
—Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., of New York

“If you believe in fighting racism, you make a commitment for the rest of your life. There’s no getting off that train. You can’t say, ‘I’ve put five years in fighting racism and now I am finished.’ No, you are not finished. Our job is to fight it every day, to continue to shove it down and when it rises up to shove it down even harder.”
—Parren James Mitchell of Maryland

“The leadership belongs not to the loudest, not to those who beat the drums or blow the trumpets, but to those who day in and day out, in all seasons, work for the practical realization of a better world—those who have the stamina to persist and remain dedicated.”
—Augustus Freeman (Gus) Hawkins of California

Listen to the words of Representative Ron Dellums of California on “Bringing the Human Family Together.”

The Honorable Ronald V. Dellums, U.S. Representative of California Interview recorded June 19, 2012 Transcript (PDF)

This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.