Black History Series | Hiram Revels

Hiram Rhodes Revels was born on September 1, 1822 in Fayetteville, North Carolina and died on January 16, 1901 in Aberdeen, Mississippi. He was an African-American clergyman and educator who became the first Black citizen to be elected to the U. S. Senate (1870-71) during Reconstruction.

Born of free parents, Revels traveled to Indiana and Illinois to receive the education that was denied him in the South. He was ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1845 and eventually settled in Baltimore, Maryland, where he served as church pastor and principal of a school for Black Americans. Soon after the War for Southern Independence began (1861), he helped organize two volunteer regiments of African-Americans for service in the Union army. Two years later, he joined the Federal forces to serve as a chaplain to a Black regiment stationed in Mississippi.

After that war, Revels settled in Natchez, Mississippi to preach to a large congregation. Despite some misgivings about entering politics, he accepted appointment by the Federal Military Governor as Alderman (1868) and was later elected to the State Senate (1869). Although Revels was a Republican, he was not anxious to encourage friction with white Southerners, he therefore supported legislation that would have restored the power to vote to the disenfranchised former Confederates. In January, 1870, he was elected to the U.S. Senate to take the seat vacated by Albert Brown in 1861. He performed competently in office, advocating desegregation in the schools and on the railroads.

On leaving the Senate, Revels became President of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, a recently opened institution of high education for Blacks, near Lorman, Mississippi. In 1874, however, he was dismissed from the college presidency. In 1875, he helped overturn the Republican (carpetbag) government in Mississippi, defending his action on the grounds that too many politician in that party were corrupt. He was rewarded by the Democratic administration, which returned him to the chief post at Alcorn, where he remained until he retired.