Image courtesy of Moorland–Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
A seasoned local and state politician, Thomas Miller of South Carolina brought his extensive experience fighting for freedmen's rights to his abbreviated term in the 51st Congress (1889–1891).
On this date, African-American Representative Thomas Miller
of South Carolina died in Charleston. Born in Ferrebeeville, South Carolina, on June 17, 1849, Miller was adopted by freed slaves and moved to Charleston in 1851. He attended illegal schools for black children before he was conscripted into the Confederate Army. Captured by Union forces in 1865, Miller subsequently won a scholarship to Lincoln University. He returned to South Carolina in 1872 where he studied law and dabbled in local Republican politics. In 1888, Miller entered the race for a U.S. House seat representing a gerrymandered district which wound through much of coastal South Carolina. Running against the incumbent Democrat, William Elliott
, Miller lost by slightly more than 1,000 votes. He contested the election, particularly the use of the “eight box ballot law,” a state statute that required multiple ballot boxes at each polling station to confuse voters. Miller’s case did not come before the full House until September 23, 1890. As Democrats vacated the chamber in an effort to avoid a quorum, Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed
of Maine took up Miller’s case, urged by GOP Members chanting, “Vote! Vote!” The House seated Miller by a vote of 157 to 1; the lone “nay” was recorded by the only Democrat who remained on the floor. Miller’s 1890 re-election battle against Elliott was equally controversial; he ultimately lost when the South Carolina supreme court declared his ballots invalid. He returned to his successful law practice and remained active in local South Carolina politics until his death.