The Historiography of Black Americans in Congress

The present volume originated with the first edition of Black Americans in Congress, which was compiled and published shortly after the U.S. bicentennial. Organized by Representative Corinne Claiborne (Lindy) Boggs of Louisiana and Senator Brooke, the booklet featured the 45 African Americans who had served in Congress. 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.”21

Carol Moseley-Braun/tiles/non-collection/b/baic_intro_Mosely_Braun_fromsho.xml Image courtesy of the 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 the book, Black Americans in Congress, 1870–1989, was authorized by the House and the Senate in the fall of 1989 and was published in 1990. By that point, 66 African Americans had served in Congress. The volume was dedicated to the memory of Representative George Thomas (Mickey) Leland of Texas who, as the book went to press, was killed in a plane crash in Ethiopia while delivering food to people suffering in the famine. Representative Ronald V. Dellums of California, 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 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.”22 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 2008 Edition and the 2019 Black Americans in Congress Update

House Concurrent Resolution 43 was introduced in the spring of 2001. 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)—the precursor to the Office of the House Historian—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 the 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.
The resulting volume, Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007, published in 2008, reflected the far-reaching changes that 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 black legislators 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 new African-American Members were elected to Congress—roughly 45 percent of all the black Members and Senators who had served in the history of the institution up to that point. Moreover, the appreciable gender gap between male and female African-American Members of Congress narrowed during this period. Between 1991 and the end of 2007, 20 black women were elected to Congress, which was 36 percent of all African Americans elected to Congress in that period.

The structure, scope, and content of the 2008 edition of Black Americans in Congress reflected the dramatic growth, changing characteristics, and increasing influence of African-American Members. Like the first edition, this volume was organized chronologically to more accurately convey how the experiences of black Members changed over time. In contrast to the Members’ profiles in both of the previous editions of Black Americans in Congress, the profiles were expanded, with more emphasis on elections and congressional service. Additionally, the political and institutional developments affecting African Americans’ participation in Congress were analyzed in contextual essays. Appendices included committee assignments, leadership positions (committee, subcommittee, and elected party posts), familial connections in Congress, CBC chairs, and major civil rights legislation since 1863. Charts and graphs illustrated historical statistics and trends. Photographs of each Member were also included, as well as an index.

Throughout the book, the terms “black,” “black American,” and “African American” were used interchangeably. The title, Black Americans in Congress, was specified in the print resolution and follows the first two editions of this book. Since the last edition of this book was published in 1990, however, the term “African American” became more commonplace in both academic and general usage. The use of these terms in the publication reflected these considerations.

Mickey Leland/tiles/non-collection/b/baic_intro_leland_mickey_NA_306_PSE_79_2299.xml Image courtesy of the 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.
Profiles of former black Members averaged 1,500 words; some profiles of Members with longer House and Senate careers exceeded 2,500 words. Each profile described the individual’s pre-congressional career and, when possible, contained a detailed analysis of the subject’s first campaign for congressional office as well as information about reelection efforts, committee assignments, leadership, and major legislative initiatives, and a brief summary of the Member’s post-congressional career.

We hope this resource will serve as a starting point for students and researchers. Bibliographic information is provided and, 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 United States Congress.

The Office of the House Historian maintains a website exhibition, “Black Americans in Congress,” history.house.gov/BAIC. The exhibit is based on the 2008 print edition but updated to reflect the entry of new African Americans into Congress. In 2018, at the direction of the Committee on House Administration, the Historian’s Office revised and updated the contextual essays of the 2008 print edition in order to prepare the 2019 e-book edition of Black Americans in Congress. The 2019 e-book reflects the considerable increase in the number of African Americans in Congress during the last decade. From the e-book, readers can access the online profiles of every individual Member from Hiram Revels and Joseph Rainey onward as well as up-to-date data and statistics. Current Member pages provide links to each individual’s official Web site and profile in the online Biographical Directory of the United States Congress at bioguide.congress.gov.

Researching the Topic of African Americans in Congress

The literature on African-American history, which has grown into one of the most dynamic fields in the profession, has expanded 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. Professor Moss was one of the readers for the 2008 edition of this book.

Distinguished Colored Men/tiles/non-collection/b/baic_intro_group_members_LC--USZ62-7825.xml Image courtesy of the 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.
A detailed discussion of the ample literature on black history is beyond the scope of this volume. 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, 3rd ed. (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, CT: 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, CA: 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); Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction, rev. ed. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996); and Philip Dray, Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2008).

Historians now know a great deal more about the lives of early African-American politicians than they did even a generation ago. The civil rights movement of the 1960s broke down the barriers to 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, John Mercer Langston of Virginia, and Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi. The lives of major 20th-century black Members of Congress, including Mitchell, Powell, and Young, have been chronicled in recent biographies. 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 Office of the House Historian and the Senate Historical Office, this publication contains basic biographical information about Members, pertinent bibliographic references, and information about manuscript collections. For House Members alone, or House Members who also served in the Senate, the People Search function on the House Historian’s Web site is also vital. It is easily searchable and updated regularly. It can be found here: history.house.gov/People/Search. In the early phase of our 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 and Politics in America 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. Congressional election results for the biennial elections from 1920 forward are available in “Statistics of the Congressional Election,” compiled by the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and published by the Government Publication Office (GPO), or available online at history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics. 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, the editors relied on Kenneth C. Martis, The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress, 1789–1989 (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1989).

Committee assignments and information about jurisdiction may be found in three indispensable scholarly compilations: David T. Canon, Garrison Nelson, and Charles Stewart III, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1789–1946, 4 vols. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2002); Garrison Nelson, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1947–1992, 2 vols. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1994); and Garrison Nelson and Charles Stewart III, Committees in the U.S. Congress: 1993–2010 (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011). In addition, the editors consulted the Congressional Directory, a GPO publication that dates back into the 19th century. The directory is available from the 105th Congress forward at gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=CDIR.

Legislation, floor debates, roll call votes, bills, resolutions, and public laws back to the 1970s may be searched at congress.gov. A useful print resource that discusses major acts of Congress is Steven V. Stathis’s Landmark Legislation, 1774–2012: Major U.S. Acts and Treaties, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2014). Floor debates about legislation can be found in the Congressional Record (1873–present), which is available at congress.gov from 1995 to the present. An index of the Record from 1983 to the present is available at gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=CRI. The editors 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, visit the House Clerk’s website at clerk.house.gov/legislative/legvotes.aspx.

For print copies of the Congressional Directory, the Congressional Record, the House Journal, or the Senate Journal, consult a federal depository library. A GPO locator for federal depository libraries may be accessed at www.gpo.gov/libraries/public/. 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 African-American newspapers, including the Chicago Defender, the Atlanta Daily World, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the New York Amsterdam News. News accounts and feature stories, particularly for Members who served before 1945, helped fill in obscure details. These newspaper citations appear in the notes.

The 2008 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 acknowledgements page. In the 1990 edition, each picture was accompanied by a photo credit, but many images were credited to Members’ offices or research collections that no longer exist.

Anticipating that some readers might want to acquire photo reproductions, we strove to provide 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 of the 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.

The editors thank the Office of the Clerk for its support and assistance in producing the e-book edition. In particular, the Office of Art and Archives provided assistance with image credits and captions and the Office of Communications copyedited and designed the final publication.

Next Section: Fifteenth Amendment in Flesh and Blood

Footnotes

21The legislative citation for the first edition is: H. Con. Res. 182, 95th Cong. (1977). See Black Americans in Congress, 1870–1977, 95th Cong., 1st sess., H. Doc. 258 (3 November 1977); Black Americans in Congress, 1870–1977 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1977).

22The legislative citation for the second edition is: Authorizing the Printing of the Book Entitled, “Black Americans in Congress,” H. Con Res. 170, 101st Cong. (1989); Black Americans in Congress, 1870–1989, 101st Cong., 2nd sess., H. Doc. 117(1 January 1990); Bruce A. Ragsdale and Joel D. Treese, eds., Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, Black Americans in Congress, 1870–1989 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1990): 1.