Hiram Rhodes Revels: a snapshot biography

“I bear about me daily the keenest sense of their weight, and that feeling prompts me now to lift my voice for the first time in this council chamber of the nation; and, sir, I stand today on this floor to appeal for protection from the strong arm of the government for her loyal children, irrespective of color and race, who are citizens of the southern states, and particularly of the State of Georgia.” – Hiram Rhodes Revels

Black and white photograph of Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress. Revels is depicted seated, facing slightly to his right, with a composed and thoughtful expression. He is wearing a dark three-piece suit with a bow tie and his hands are rested on the arms of a carved wooden chair.
Hiram Rhodes Revels


Hiram Rhodes Revels was known for being a great orator. After a career as a minister and an educator, he entered political life with his election as alderman in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1868. A year later, he was elected to the state senate, where he grew in stature and on February 25, 1870, was selected to complete the term of one of the state’s two seats in the U.S., which had been vacant from the time of the Civil War. 

But his election didn’t lead to immediate participation in the Senate. The Senate required an official to be a citizen of the U.S. for at least nine years to take office. Hiram didn’t meet that requirement as the fourteenth amendment was not ratified until 1868. After three days of debate, the Senate decided that he could take the seat. With the completed vote, Hiram became the first Black Congressman in U.S. history. 


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“A snapshot biography of Hiram Rhodes Revels” sources:

Portrait of Hiram Rhodes Revels taken by Mathew Brady or Levin Handy sometime between 1860 and 1875 / Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection / Wikimedia Commons

Primus, Richard A. “The Riddle of Hiram Revels.” Harvard Law Review, vol. 119, no. 6, 2006, pp. 1680–1734. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4093530. Accessed April 29. 2021.

Thompson, Julius E. “Hiram Rhodes Revels, 1827-1901: A Reappraisal.” The Journal of Negro History, vol. 79, no. 3, 1994, pp. 297–303., www.jstor.org/stable/2717508. Accessed April 29. 2021.

Speech to the Senate, March 16th, 1870 – Wikiquote