AFRICAN AMERICANS IN CONGRESS 1870-2016


 

AFRICAN AMERICANS IN CONGRESS 1870-2016
By Uriah J. Fields

       The Civil War ended April 9, 1865 when General Robert Lee, commander of the Confederate Army, surrendered his massive army to General Ulysses Grant, commander of the Union Army at Appomattox, Court House, Virginia. On April 14, five days later, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and Andrew Johnson became the President to preside over the beginning of Reconstruction. He was from the South and not a friend to African Americans. It has been reported that Abraham Lincoln had proposed limited suffrage for African Americans in the South that would somewhat correspond to the three-fifth of a person clause that applied to them when they were slaves as cited in the U. S. Constitution. Since Lincoln did not live long enough after the Civil War to submit his plans to Congress this may be considered as speculation. However, we do know Lincoln was not for Robert L. Lee and other Confederate Army leaders being tried for their insurrection and treason, as some Union Army leaders proposed. To this, Lincoln's response was "malice toward none."
      In 1870, five years after the Civil War ended, despite Andrew Johnson's lack of enthusiasm for African Americans to have representation in the Congress, Jefferson Franklin (GA), Joseph Rainey (SC) and Hiram Revels (Ms) became the first African Americans to serve in the (41st) Congress.
    During the Reconstruction era and until 1901 there were 21African Americans in Congress. They were all Republicans, based on their felt indebtedness to President Abraham Lincoln and liberal abolitionists who were Republicans. Democrats/Dixiecrats ruled the South and had no appetite for African Americans to have the vote, let alone be representatives in Congress.
  After the North all but deserted African Americans, the Ku Klu Klan, emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled in the 1896 'Plessy v. Ferguson" decision that "separate but equal" was constitutional, and the South's enactment of "black codes," forming "Jim Crow" laws, that deprived African Americans of their civil rights, including the right to vote in the South, let alone be elected to serve in Congress, while the North did not give a damn about this brazen take-over of the South, despite supposingly the Union Army had won the Civil War.
       From 1901 until 1929, (28 years) there was not a single African American in Congress, despite the fact they constituted thirteen percent of the population.
      In 1929 African American Oscar Stanton De Priest (IL) was elected to Congress. In 1935 Arthur Wergs Mitchell (IL) became the first African American to be elected as a Democrat to Congress. Since then until the present, with few exceptions, African American representatives in Congress have been Democrats. It was not until 1945 when Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., (NY) that another African American was elected to serve in Congress. He was followed by William L. Dawson (IL) in 1948, Charles Coles Diggs, Jr. (MI) in 1955 and Robert Nelson Nix Conelius Sr., (PA) in 1957. From 1901 to 1965 these seven persons were the only African Americans to serve in Congress.
      {Let me add, that on December 5, 1955, the day of Rosa Parks' trial - she had been arrested five days earlier for having violated the segregation laws of Alabama by refusing to give her bus seat to a white person - Congress Charles Diggs was in the Court room as was I when Parks was found guilty of violating Alabama's segregation laws. Later that same day African American leaders of Montgomery organized the Montgomery Improvement Association to direct the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Martin Luther King, Jr., was elected to serve as president and I (Uriah J. Fields) was elected to serve as secretary of the new organization.}
      Beginning with President Franklin D. Roosevelt who initiated the New Deal, and continuing with President Harry S. Truman who integrated the Military and President Lyndon B. Johnson who signed civil rights legislation in the 1960s, including the 1965 voting Rights Act, Africans Americans, with few exceptions, have voted as Democrats.
      Although there were 21 African Americans in Congress from 1870 to 1901, and as stated earlier not a single African American in Congress from 1901 to 1929, and only 7 from 1929 to 1965 in Congress, with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, today, in the 114th Congress 2016, there are 46 African Americans in the House of Represenatives and 2 in the Senate.
    Let it be stated with emphasis that African Americans having the right to vote since 1965 has made a significant difference in their lives and the lives of other Americans, including having given America a two-term (2009-2016) African American President Barack Obama. Let African Americans never forget that their adversaries never wanted them to have the vote and that remains true today. There is power in the vote, including money power that is in reality the "In God we trust" worshiped by many, if not most Americans.
      May African Americans never forget the price many of their ancestors paid that they may have the right to vote. I recall how difficult it was for me to vote in Montgomery, two years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott and twelve years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, even though I had served in the Military four years, two years before and two years during the Korea War. Let African Americans be vigilant in voting and in confronting those who seek to deny many of them the right to vote, even today, when one in four African American men of voting age are incarcerated or labeled ex-felons. These ex-felons can pay taxes, when they can find work, but cannot vote. "No taxation without representation!" is a violation of moral law.
     Now that you have been enlightened about "African Americans in Congress" take the responsibility to pass on this article to as many people as you can and urge everyone you send it to to pass it on to others. And why not discuss it around the dinner table, with two or more people and in groups?

Copyright 2016 by Uriah J. Fields

P.S. You may want to read other articles by Uriah J. Fields on this Web Site. The people read them and were glad for their encouraging messages.

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