Yes, it was 150 years ago Tuesday that Hiram R. Revels was officially appointed a U.S. Senator out of Mississippi.
In 1870, the state congress selected Revels to fill a vacant seat in the United States Senate. Debate surrounding his eligibility hinged on the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which precluded African-American citizenship. The decision was effectively reversed by the ratification of the 14th Amendment after the Civil War. Democrats argued that Revels did not meet the nine-year citizenship requirement to hold congressional office given his ineligibility for citizenship through the war years. Ultimately, Revels and his Republican allies prevailed by citing Revels's mixed-race background, and Revels became the first African American to serve in the United States Senate. His appointment was particularly symbolic in that the seat he occupied had previously belonged to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.
During his time in Washington, the press praised Revels for his well-crafted speeches and diplomatic approach to a tense congressional environment. His signature issue was civil rights, including the integration of schools and equal opportunities for black workers. Revels urged a moderate view on the restoration of Confederate citizenship. While the Radical Republicans in Congress called for harsh punishments to be meted out to Civil War rebels, Senator Revels took a milder view. He argued for the immediate restoration of citizenship to former Confederates, along with the secure enfranchisement, education and employment eligibility of African Americans.
Wow, was he ever ahead of his time.
Given February is Black History Month, Revels' milestone is one factoid which I am disappointed wasn't touted more. It's a shame partisan politics seeps into almost every aspect of life. Nevertheless this is further proof that of the two major political parties, the GOP was the one leading the way on equality and desegregation. It's a shame that Republicans lost their grip on that issue approximately a century later.
Thankfully, current Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker led a resolution to honor Revels this past Tuesday.
“Hiram Revels was an extraordinary Mississippian and American whose legacy extends far beyond breaking the color barrier in Congress,” Wicker said. “He used his platform to fight for equality and reconciliation in a nation divided by race and the Civil War. The broad bipartisan support for this resolution demonstrates the deep respect and appreciation Americans still have for Hiram Revels’s service.”
Regardless of what month of the year it may be, Mr. Revels' legacy is one worth celebrating at any given moment.