the first black to be elected to the U.S. Senate
Hiram Rhodes Revels was born free in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on September 27, 1827. During his childhood African-Americans in the South were not allowed to learn to read or white, but he was secretly taught by a free black woman. When he was fifteen his family moved to Lincolnton, North Carolina, where he became a barber.
Wanting to continue his education, Revels moved to Indiana in 1844, where he studied at Beech Grove Seminary, a Quaker school. In 1845 he began studying for the ministry at a black seminary in Drake County, Ohio, and was ordained as a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church that same year. In 1849 he was ordained an elder in the Indiana Conference. He spent the next several years traveling as a religious teacher and educator in Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Again wanting to further his education, Revels attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, from 1855 to 1857. After leaving Knox, he became a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland. At the same time, he became principal of an African-American high school.
Upon outbreak of the Civil War, Revels helped organize Union regiments and recruit soldiers for the first colored regiment to be organized in Maryland. In 1863, Revels established a school for freedmen in St. Louis, Missouri. He later worked with the U.S. Provost Marshall to handle the affairs of ex-slaves. In 1865, Revels left the AME Church and joined the Methodist Episcopal (ME) Church. He later became the presiding elder of the ME Church, serving the Mississippi Conference.
In 1868, Adelbert Ames, provisional military governor of Mississippi, appointed Revels for a term on the Natchez Board of Aldermen. In 1869, Revels accepted the Republican nomination for the Mississippi State Senate, representing Adams County, and was subsequently elected. In 1870, the Mississippi Senate elected him to the United States Senate, where he served from February 25, 1870, to March 3, 1871. During his short tenure, Revels introduced several bills, presented a number of petitions, and served on the Committee on the District of Columbia and the Committee on Education. He also addressed the Senate on topics such as the readmission of Georgia, the construction of levees in Mississippi, and the integration of public schools in the District of Columbia.
After leaving the Senate, Revels became president of Alcorn College, the first land grant college for black students, and served in that capacity from 1871 to 1873. After leaving Alcorn he re-entered the ministry, serving as the pastor of the Holly Springs (Mississippi) Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1876 he again became president of Alcorn College, retiring from that position in 1882. He subsequently taught theology at Rust University in Holly Springs and became presiding elder in the ME Church, serving the Upper Mississippi District.
Hiram Rhodes Revels died on January 16, 1901. He is buried in Hill Crest Cemetery, Holly Springs.
The Autobiography of Hiram Rhodes Revels Together with some Letters By and About Him was published in The Midwest Journal in 1953.
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