October 07, 2008
By Jessica Pritchard
The House of Representatives’ Office of the Clerk recently created the web site Black Americans in Congress detailing the plight of African Americans in attaining full civil rights in the federal legislature. Beginning in 1870 with Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi and Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina, African American Congress members, as surrogate representatives for an entire population, have fought long and hard to overcome racial prejudice, marginalization, and exclusion in the federal legislature. The web site explores three major eras that encompass the transformation of African Americans in Congress: the pioneering era from 1870-1901, the apprenticeship era from 1929-70, and the mature integration era from 1971-2007. Readers can delve deeper into these monumental eras through historical essays, Congress member profiles, artifacts, historical data, and educational resources:
- Historical Essays include four pieces that are divided chronologically to hone in on infamous hurdles overcome and legendary ground covered by African Americans in the federal legislature.
- 15th Amendment in Flesh and Blood: The Symbolic Generation of Black Americans in Congress (1870-87) details the perseverance and dedication of African American representatives and the issues they faced as some of America’s newest citizens. Though they had a presence in the federal legislature, African Americans were still extremely limited in their Congressional powers during this era.
- The Negroes’ Temporary Farewell: Jim Crow and the Exclusion from Congress (1887-1929) examines the 28 year lapse in African American representation in Congress (1901-29) due in large part to the infamous Jim Crow laws. Even up until the lapse, only five African Americans served in Congress between 1887-1901.
- Keeping the Faith: African Americans Return to Congress (1929-70) explains the resurrection of African Americans in Congress, beginning with Oscar De Priest from Illinois in 1929. De Priest serving in Congress after nearly 30 years of no African American representation began the apprenticeship era when black representatives worked towards higher, more powerful positions within the federal legislature.
- Permanent Interests: The Expansion, Organization, and Rising Influence of African Americans in Congress (1971-2007) investigates a thriving era—that continues into modern contexts—for African Americans in Congress, due in large part to both the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and legislative redistricting.