Black History Partially Reconstructed

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

With the unveiling of a controversial memorial to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, it is useful to explore the black history that academia ignores.

For example, the first African-American elected by popular vote to the U. S. Senate was Edward Booke, R-Massachusetts, first voted into the upper chamber in 1966, when President Obama was five-years old.  Indeed, of the half-dozen black senators who have served in the Senate in the history of the republic, one-third came from the Deep South.

Yet and still, they were sent to Washington during Reconstruction in the aftermath of the Civil War. Both came from the same state—Mississippi. The state legislature there chose them for the task of representing Mississippi in the nation’s capital.

The first of these, Hiram Rhodes Revels, “favored universal amnesty for former Confederates, requiring only their sworn loyalty to the Union,” and “successfully appealed to the War Department on behalf of black mechanics from Baltimore who were barred from working at the U.S. Navy Yard in early 1871, an accomplishment he recalled with great pride.”         

Blanche Kelso Bruce, the first black senator to serve a full-term, was, like Revels, a Republican. “When Mississippi was represented in the Senate from 1877 to 1879 by both the unquestioned leader of the anti-Reconstruction forces in Mississippi, Confederate officer and former slaveholder, Democrat Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, and black Republican Blanche Kelso Bruce, they not only worked together for the good of Mississippi but liked each other and were political allies,” lawyer, columnist and history buff Charles G. Mills wrote in a recent column.  “The last black Republican Congressman from the old South left office in 1901, and the last black Republican victory in municipal elections in a major Southern city was in 1898—precisely the era when Progressivism and Populism were beginning to take over the Democrat Party.”

Mills may be onto something. Revels and Bruce, as noted above, were chosen by their state assembly. The popular election of senators began in 1913.

Ironically, like many other progressive policies which President Woodrow Wilson promoted, this one didn’t do much to benefit blacks either. In fact, a dozen blacks were elected to the U. S. House of Representatives during Reconstruction (1866-1877) from the old confederacy. By way of contrast, three blacks won election to the House during the Progressive era (1890-1913).

It is worth noting that for more than a half-century after the Civil War ended, no northern state sent even one single African-American to Congress to represent as much as one single congressional district.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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