Empowerment through Position: African Americans Taking Political Charge


Historical Overview

Emancipation Proclamation– This online exhibit, courtesy of Library of Congress’s American Memory Project, details the historical significance of the Emancipation Proclamation. The exhibit is based on excerpts from the Abraham Lincoln Papers and includes the digitization of the Emancipation’s original drafts (click “Gallery”).

Civil War and Reconstruction, 1860-1877– This website indexes numerous collection guides pertaining to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Within, you can find pertinent documents, online exhibitions, timelines, non-governmental exhibits, bibliographies, and suggested readings for youth.

African American Odyssey: Reconstruction and It’s Aftermath– This exhibit details important aspects of the Reconstruction era. Text and images reflect experiences of the time. (Note: click on the images to view them in their entirety)

Prologue Magazine (Summer 1997, Vol. 29, No.2)- Several research-based articles within this magazine focus upon the Civil War and the Reconstruction era. NARA staff and historians used this issue of Prologue to examine the breadth of federal documents pertaining to African Americans.

Black Members of the United States Congress: 1870-2008– This PDF document highlights African Americans in the US Congress, dating back to the very first who served. Lists, biographical data, and tables expound upon the historical and geographical representation of the African American representatives.

Portrait of the first African American Senators and Representatives– This is a digitization of an original portrait, showing Senator Hiram Revels, and Representatives Benjamin Turner, Robert De Large, Josiah Walls, Jefferson Long, Joseph Rainey, and Robert B. Elliott.

African Americans of the Senate– This website provides biographical information about the first four African American Senators and the first African American staff within Senate. Links to fuller biographies and oral history interviews are available.

“Colored Member Admitted to His Seat in the Senate”– This New York Times article gives a detailed observation what occurred when Senator Hiram Revels was sworn into duty. (Note: scroll down the page to read the online transcript)


Congressional Firsts

First African American to serve in Senate:

  • Hiram Revels– Follow this link for his extended biography through the U.S. Senate’s website.

First African American to serve in House:

  • Joseph H. Rainey– Follow this link for his biography through the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (BDUSC).

First African American woman to serve in Congress (House):

First African American woman to serve in Senate:


The African American Senators

  • Hiram Revels || Republican || Term: 1870-1871 || Represented: Mississippi
    Biography (BDUSC)
    Biography (State Library of North Carolina)
  • Blanche K. Bruce || Republican || Term: 1875-1881 || Represented: Mississippi
    Biography (BDUSC)
    Biography (Senate)
  • Edward Brooke || Republican || Term: 1967-1979 || Represented: Massachusetts
    Biography (BDUSC)
  • Carol Moseley Braun || Democrat || Term: 1993-1999 || Represented: Illinois
    Biography (BDUSC)
  • Barack Obama || Democrat || Term: 2005-2008 || Represented: Illinois
    Biography (BDUSC)


The First Ten Representatives

  • Joseph H. Rainey || Republican || Term: 1870-1879 || Represented: South Carolina
    Biography (BDUSC)
  • Jefferson Franklin Long || Republican || Term: 1870-1871 || Represented: Georgia
    Biography (BDUSC)
  • Robert Brown Elliott || Republican || Term: 1871-1874 || Represented: South Carolina
    Biography (BDUSC)
  • Robert Carlos DeLarge || Republican || Term: 1871-1873 || Represented: South Carolina
    Biography (BDUSC)
  • Josiah Thomas Walls || Republican || Term: 1871-1876 || Represented: Florida
    Biography (BDUSC)
  • Benjamin Sterling Turner || Republican || Term: 1871-1873 || Represented: Alabama
    Biography (BDUSC)
  • Alonzo Jacob Ransier || Republican || Term: 1873-1875 || Represented: South Carolina
    Biography (BDUSC)
  • James Thomas Rapier || Republican || Term: 1873-1875 || Represented: Alabama
    Biography (BDUSC)
  • John Roy Lynch || Republican || Term: 1873-1877, 1882-1883 || Represented: Mississippi
    Biography (BDUSC)
  • Richard Harvey Cain || Republican || Term: 1873-1875, 1877-1879 || Represented: South Carolina
    Biography (BDUSC)