The Historiography of Black Americans in Congress

The present volume originated with the first edition of Black Americans in Congress (H. Con. Res. 182, House Document No. 95–258, 95th Congress, 3 November 1977), which was compiled and published shortly after the U.S. bicentennial. Organized by Representative Corinne (Lindy) Boggs of Louisiana and Senator Brooke, the booklet featured the 45 African Americans who had served in Congress (42 Representatives and three Senators). A résumé-style format included basic biographical information, congressional service dates, party affiliation, committee assignments, and information about Members’ other political offices. Entries were arranged chronologically, with one section for Senators and another for Representatives. A thumbnail image accompanied each profile. In a brief introduction, the renowned African-American historian Benjamin Quarles of Morgan State University wrote that black Members on Capitol Hill were “living proof that Blacks could produce an able leadership of their own. Moreover, their presence in the halls of Congress, made their Black constituents feel that they were more than bystanders—they were participants, however vicariously, in the political process.”19

Carol Moseley-Braun/tiles/non-collection/b/baic_intro_Mosely_Braun_fromsho.xml Image courtesy of U.S. Senate Historical Office In 1992, Senator Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois became the first black woman and the fourth African American to win election to the U.S. Senate. Moseley-Braun was one of 17 new African-American Members elected in the 1992 campaign. As a result, the Congressional Black Caucus’s numbers increased to a significant voting bloc of 40 members.
The second edition of Black Americans in Congress, 1870–1989 (H. Con Res. 170, H. Doc. No. 101-117) was authorized by the House and the Senate in the fall of 1989 and was published in 1990. By that point, 66 African Americans (63 Representatives and three Senators) had served in Congress. The volume was dedicated to the memory of Representative George Thomas (Mickey) Leland of Texas (1979–1989) who was killed, as the book went to press, in a plane crash while delivering food to starving Ethiopians. Representative Ronald V. Dellums of California (1971–1998), then the chairman of the CBC, contributed a brief introduction for the volume: “For Black Americans the promise of republican government and democratic participation was delayed well beyond the founding of the federal government in 1789.” Dellums also observed, “In this bicentennial year of Congress and the federal government, it is important to recognize that the Constitution we enjoy today evolved over a number of years and did not protect the civil rights of Black Americans until after a Civil War and passage of significant amendments.”20 Created partly to commemorate the bicentennial of Congress in 1989, the volume contained 500- to 1,000-word profiles of Members, with basic biographical information. Suggestions for further reading were provided at the end of each profile. Profiles of former and current Members, arranged alphabetically, were merged into one section and accompanied by larger pictures.

The Present Edition

In the spring of 2001, House Concurrent Resolution 43 was introduced. The resolution, which passed the House on March 21, 2001, and was agreed to by the Senate on April 6, 2001, authorized the Library of Congress to compile “an updated version” of Black Americans in Congress, 1870–1989. In late 2001, the Library of Congress transferred the project to the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. Subsequently, the Office of History and Preservation (OHP) was created under the Clerk of the House, and OHP staff began work on this publication.

Harper's Weekly Meeting/tiles/non-collection/b/baic_intro_electioneering_south_harpers_July_25_1868_lc.xml Image courtesy of Library of Congress An illustration in Harper’s Weekly, July 1868, depicts a political meeting of African Americans in the South. Personal campaigns conducted among their neighbors in majority-black districts throughout the South propelled 22 black men into the U.S. Congress between 1870 and 1901.
This volume reflects the far-reaching changes that have occurred since the second edition of the book. When the 1990 edition was published during the 101st Congress (1989–1991), 25 black Members served in the House. There were no African-American Senators. But within less than two decades there were a number of unprecedented developments. In 1992 alone, 17 new blacks were elected to Congress, the most ever in any single election and more than in any previous decade in congressional history. From 1991 through the end of 2007, 55 African Americans were elected to Congress—roughly 45 percent of all the blacks who have served in the history of the institution.

Moreover, the appreciable gender gap between male and female African-American Members of Congress narrowed during this period. Before 1991, just five black women had been elected to Congress. But in 1992 alone, five new women were elected. Between 1991 and the end of 2007, 20 African-American women were elected to Congress (36 percent of all blacks elected to Congress in that period).

The structure, scope, and content of this edition of Black Americans in Congress reflect the dramatic growth, changing characteristics, and increasing influence of African-American Members. Like the first edition, this volume is organized chronologically, to represent more accurately the effects of historical trends on blacks’ entry into Congress. In contrast to the Members’ profiles in both of the previous editions of Black Americans in Congress, the profiles in this edition have been expanded, with more emphasis on elections and congressional service. Additionally, the political and institutional developments affecting African Americans’ participation in Congress are analyzed in contextual essays. Appendices include committee assignments, leadership positions (committee, subcommittee, and elected party posts), familial connections in Congress, CBC chairs, and major civil rights acts since 1863. Charts and graphs illustrate historical statistics and trends. Photographs of each Member are also included, as well as an index.

Throughout this book, we use the terms “black” and “African American” interchangeably. The title of this volume, Black Americans in Congress, was specified in the print resolution and follows the first two editions of this book. However, since the last edition of this book was published in 1990, the term “African American” has become more commonplace in both academic and general usage. Our use of both terms reflects these considerations.

Profiles of former black Members average 1,500 words; some profiles of Members with longer House and Senate careers exceed 2,500 words. Each profile describes the Member’ precongressional career and, when possible, contains a detailed analysis of the subject’s first campaign for congressional office as well as information about re-election efforts, committee assignments, leadership, and major legislative initiatives, and a brief summary of the Member’s postcongressional career. Current Member pages provide links to individuals’ official Web sites and profiles in the online Biographical Directory of the United States Congress at

We hope this Web site will serve as a starting point for students and researchers. Accordingly, bibliographic information is provided. When applicable, information about manuscript collections and other repositories with significant holdings (e.g., the transcript of an oral history or extended correspondence) is included at the end of each profile. This information was drawn from the House and Senate records that were used to compile the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress.

The literature on African-American history, which has grown into one of the most dynamic fields in the profession, has been created largely since the 1960s. John Hope Franklin, the post–World War II dean of black history, wrote the textbook From Slavery to Freedom (first published in 1947; later editions were written with Alfred A. Moss, Jr.); with eight editions in half a century, this textbook remains an excellent starting point for those who wish to appreciate the breadth of the African-American historical experience.The ample literature on black history is far too complex for a detailed discussion here. As often as possible we have pointed readers, in the endnotes of the essays and profiles of this volume, toward standard works on various aspects of black history and congressional history. However, the following studies proved exceptionally important and deserve mention: Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988); C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974); J. Morgan Kousser, The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880–1910 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974); Robert L. Zangrando, The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching, 1909–1950 (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1980); Carol Swain, Black Faces, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993); and Robert L. Singh, The Congressional Black Caucus: Racial Politics in the U.S. Congress (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 1998). We also consulted several general texts that profile black Members of Congress and major politicians: Maurine Christopher, Black Americans in Congress (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell and Company, 1976); Stephen Middleton, ed., Black Congressmen During Reconstruction: A Documentary Sourcebook (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002); and Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction, revised edition (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996).

Historians now know a great deal more about the lives of early African-American politicians than they did even a brief generation ago. The civil rights movement of the 1960s renewed black participation in the political process and refocused interest on this long-neglected aspect of history. As the field of African-American history has grown, a number of political biographies have been published on 19th-century black Members of Congress, including Revels, Elliott, White, Murray, Robert Smalls of South Carolina (1875–1879; 1882–1883; 1884–1887), John Mercer Langston of Virginia (1890–1891), and Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi (1875–1881). The lives of major 20th-century black Members of Congress have been chronicled in recent biographies, including Mitchell, Powell, and Young. But a number of prominent legislators have yet to be studied thoroughly, including 19th-century figures such as Rainey and John Roy Lynch of Mississippi (1873–1877; 1882–1883) and many 20th-century Members, including De Priest, Dawson, Diggs, Hawkins, and Jordan.

Mickey Leland/tiles/non-collection/b/baic_intro_leland_mickey_NA_306_PSE_79_2299.xml Image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration George Thomas (Mickey) Leland of Texas poured his energy into raising awareness of hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. In 1984, Leland successfully persuaded the House to create the Select Committee on Hunger, which he chaired.
 Several sources were indispensable starting points in the compilation of this book. Inquiries into Members’ congressional careers should begin with the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Maintained by the House Office of History and Preservation and the Senate Historical Office, this publication contains basic biographical information about Members, pertinent bibliographic references, and information about manuscript collections. It is easily searchable and updated regularly. In the early phase of research, we also consulted standard reference works such as the American National Biography, the Dictionary of American Biography, the Dictionary of American Negro Biography, and Current Biography. We used various editions of the Almanac of American Politics (Washington, DC: National Journal Inc.) and Politics in America (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press) as a starting point in our research involving current Members as well as many former Members who served after 1971.

Much of the information was researched using primary sources, particularly published official congressional records and scholarly compilations of congressional statistics. Following is a summary of the sources consulted for information related to congressional elections, committee assignments, legislation, votes, floor debates, news accounts, and images.

Congressional election results for the biennial elections from 1920 onward are available in the Clerk’s “Election Statistics,” published by the Government Printing Office (GPO) and available in PDF/HTML format at Michael J. Dubin et al., United States Congressional Elections, 1788–1997 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Publishing, Inc., 1998) contains results for both general and special elections. For information on district boundaries and reapportionment, we relied on Kenneth C. Martis’s The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress, 1789–1989 (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1989) and the three-volume work by Stanley B. Parsons et al., United States Congressional Districts (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986).

Committee assignments and information about jurisdiction can be found in two indispensable scholarly compilations: David T. Canon, Garrison Nelson, and Charles Stewart III, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1789–1946, four volumes (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2002) and Garrison Nelson, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1947–1992, two volumes (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1994). We also consulted the Congressional Directory, a GPO publication that dates back into the 19th century. From the 104th Congress onward, it is available online at GPO; see

Legislation, floor debates, roll call votes, bills, resolutions, and public laws as far back as the 1980s can be searched on the Library of Congress’s THOMAS Web site at Two particularly useful print resources that discuss historical acts of Congress are: Steven V. Stathis’s Landmark Legislation, 1774–2002: Major U.S. Acts and Treaties (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2002) and Brian K. Landsberg, ed., Major Acts of Congress, three volumes (New York: Macmillan Reference, Thompson–Gale, 2004). Floor debates about legislation can be found in the Congressional Record (1873 to the present), which is available at the Thomas Web site from 1989 to the present; an index of the Record from 1983 to the present is available at Electronic copies of the Congressional Globe (the predecessor to the Congressional Record) are available at “A Century of Lawmaking,” part of the Library of Congress’s online American Memory Collection. We also consulted the official proceedings in the House Journal and the Senate Journal. For House roll call votes back to the second session of the 101st Congress, please visit the House History page on the Web site of Clerk of the House at For Senate roll call votes back to the 1st session of the 101st Congress, see the following page on the U.S. Senate Web site: For print copies of the Congressional Directory, the Congressional Record, the House Journal, or the Senate Journal, please consult a local federal depository library. A GPO locator for federal depository libraries is accessible at

Distinguished Colored Men/tiles/non-collection/b/baic_intro_group_members_LC--USZ62-7825.xml Image courtesy of Library of Congress Abolitionist Frederick Douglass anchors an 1883 chromolithograph of “distinguished colored men.” Among those featured are Representatives Robert Elliott and Joseph Rainey of South Carolina, John Langston of Virginia, and Senator Blanche Bruce of Mississippi. The image also includes Henry Highland Garnet, minister at Washington’s Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. He became the first African American to speak in the House Chamber when he addressed a crowd of Sunday worshippers on February 12, 1865.
Using an online database, we reviewed key newspapers for major historical time periods covered in this book, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, and the Atlanta Constitution. We also consulted old editions of African-American newspapers, including the Chicago Defender, the Atlanta Daily World, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the New York Amsterdam. News accounts and feature stories, particularly for Members who served before 1945, helped fill in obscure details. Many of these newspaper citations appear in the notes.

This edition of Black Americans in Congress involved a significant amount of photo research. Previous editions of this book included only a head-and-shoulders image of each Member. Individual picture credits were not included in the 1977 edition, though the book contained an acknowledgement page. In the 1990 edition, each picture was accompanied by a photo credit, but many images were credited to Members’ offices that no longer exist or to the collection of the House Historian whose office closed in the mid-1990s.

Anticipating that some readers might want to acquire photo reproductions, we strove to provide accurate information for images that are accessible from public, private, and commercial repositories. We used the following photo collections: Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress (Washington, DC); the Still Pictures Branch of the National Archives and Records Administration (College Park, MD); the Moorland–Spingarn Research Center at Howard University (Washington, DC); the Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC); the John Mercer Langston Collection, Fisk University Franklin Library (Nashville, TN); the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library (Abilene, KS); the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library (Boston, MA); the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library (Austin, TX); the Philadelphia Inquirer archives; the Mike Espy Collection at the Congressional and Political Research Center at Mississippi State University (Starkville, MS); and the Texas State Senate Media Services (Austin, TX). Additionally, some images were provided by the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives; the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives; the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office; the Collection of the U.S. Senate; and the U.S. Senate Historical Office. The images of current Members were provided by their offices, which are the point of contact for persons seeking official images.


Special thanks are due to our colleagues in the field of congressional history, whose comments have greatly improved this volume. The following individuals graciously shared their time and insights: Kenneth Kato of the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives and Records Administration; Historian Richard A. Baker, Associate Historian Donald A. Ritchie, and Assistant Historian Betty K. Koed of the Senate Historical Office; and Donald R. Kennon, chief historian of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. We are also indebted to Professor Alfred A. Moss, Jr., of the University of Maryland at College Park, whose insights as a co-author of the standard textbook on African-American history have improved this book.

We thank the supportive and collegial staff of the Office of Clerk of the House of Representatives. Clerk of the House Lorraine C. Miller and Deputy Clerk Deborah Spriggs provided instrumental support. The Office of Publication Services (OPS) in the Office of the Clerk designed the print version and the Web version of this publication. For their collaboration and enthusiasm, we especially thank OPS Chief Janice Wallace-Hamid, Webmaster Catherine Cooke, copyeditor Marcie Kanakis, and designers David Serota, Angela Rock, Mark Seavey, and Lauren Haman. The courteous and professional staff of the libraries of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate provided timely research assistance.

Lastly, we thank our colleagues in the Office of History and Preservation for providing good cheer and unfailing help. Farar Elliott, Chief of OHP and House Curator, handled the myriad issues involved in producing a volume of this size, allowing us to focus on content. House Archivist Robin Reeder provided information about manuscript collections. Curatorial staff Karen McKinstry and Felicia Wivchar vetted captions and credits related to artifacts from the House Collection, and proofed galleys. Catherine Wallace and Joe Wallace worked with the offices of current Members to obtain images. Toni Coverton’s masterful administration of correspondence, copyedits, and countless other tasks kept everyone on track. With such support, writing House history is enjoyable and educational.

Matthew Wasniewski
Historian and Editor-in-Chief, Office of History and Preservation

Erin Marie-Lloyd Hromada, Kathleen Johnson, Terrance Rucker, and Laura K. Turner
Writers and Researchers, Office of History and Preservation

Next Section: Fifteenth Amendment in Flesh and Blood


19Black Americans in Congress, 1870–1977 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1977).

20Black Americans in Congress, 1870–1989, Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, Bruce A. Ragsdale and Joel D.Treese, eds. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1990): 1.