|After the Civil War it
became possible for Blacks to vote in the south. This was made
possible by the passage of the Reconstruction Acts by Congress. Five
states had a majority Black population: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana,
Mississippi, and South Carolina. Prior to the Reconstruction Acts,
which were given more support by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the
Constitution, there were 627,000 White voters in the south and no
Black voters. After Blacks gained the right to vote, and there were
703,000 who did so, it became possible for Blacks to hold office on a
local and statewide basis.
All the early Black congressmen (and senators) were members of the Republican party. This is because the Republicans, exemplified by President Abraham Lincoln, were the party in office during the Civil War and many abolitionists belonged to the Republican Party. The Democrats were opposed to all attempts to banish slavery.
Thirteen of the twenty-two Blacks elected to Congress during Reconstruction were ex-slaves and all were self taught or family trained. There were seven lawyers, three ministers, one banker, one publisher, two school teachers, and three college presidents. Eight had experience in state assemblies and senates. There were problems, however, as five of the first twenty Blacks elected to the House were denied their seats and ten others had their terms interrupted or delayed. Claims of vote fraud were the most common ploy used by Whites to deny an elected Black person his seat.
In 1869 James Lewis, John Willis Menard, and Pinckney B.S. Pinchback — all of Louisiana — were elected and never seated. In 1870 Joseph H. Rainey of South Carolina was the first Black to be seated in the House. He ran for reelection in 1872, won, and in 1874 his reelection was challenged. He was seated after the House, after several months, voted to seat him. He won again in 1876, and was again challenged. He was seated and after eighteen months the investigating committee recommended his seat be declared vacant. The full House, however, did not vote on the matter and referred it back to committee.
Other Blacks who were elected to the House and seated often had very rocky tenures. Only a few did not have to face hostile, organized opposition within Congress. A few examples are listed below.
• Robert C. DeLarge, South
Carolina, elected in 1870
• Josiah Thomas Walls, Florida,
elected in 1870
• Jefferson Franklin Long,
Georgia, elected in 1871
• Robert Brown Elliott, South
Carolina, elected in 1871
• Joseph H. Rainey, South
Carolina, elected in 1871
• Alonzo J. Ransier, Georgia,
elected in 1872
• James T. Rapier, Alabama,
elected in 1873
• John Mercer Langston,
Virginia, elected in 1888
• Thomas E. Miller, South
Carolina, elected in 1889
During Reconstruction, southern Whites suddenly found themselves looking at former slaves not only eyeball to eyeball, but as equals before the law and in their (the freed slaves) ability to obtain elected office. Many Whites never ceased trying to "turn back the clock" so to speak.
Through the imposition of "Black Codes," laws designed to limit Black participation in all areas of life, the establishment of sanctioned violence and "control" on the local level by the Ku Klux Klan, the active and passive aid — via passing legislation and refusing to act when called upon in certain circumstances — of Presidents Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Rutherford B. Hayes, the Whites were eventually successful in bringing about the end of Reconstruction. In Reconstruction's place segregation was instituted and voting rights for Blacks ceased. Thus, toward the end of the 19th century, it became virtually impossible for Blacks in the south to be elected any office. This reality did not alter until the mid-1960s.
Primary source, and for much more information on Black Congressmen and Senators, refer to: Just Permanent Interests by Congressman William Clay