Black United States Senators

Hiram Rhodes Revels (September 27, 1827 – January 16, 1901) was the first African American to serve in the United States Senate. Since he preceded any African American in the House, he was the first African American in the U.S. Congress as well. He represented Mississippi in 1870 and 1871 during Reconstruction. As of 2009, Revels is one of only six African Americans ever to have served in the United States Senate.


U.S. Senator

Revels spoke for compromise and moderation. A vigorous advocate of racial equality, Revels tried to reassure Senators about the capability of blacks. In his maiden speech to the Senate on March 16, 1870, in a plea to reinstate the black legislators of the Georgia General Assembly who had been illegally ousted by white representatives, he said, “I maintain that the past record of my race is a true index of the feelings which today animate them. They aim not to elevate themselves by sacrificing one single interest of their white fellow citizens” (Ploski 18).

He served on both the Committee on Education and Labor and the Committee on the District of Columbia. Much of the Senate’s attention focused on Reconstruction issues. While Radical Republicans called for continued punishment of ex-Confederates, Revels argued for amnesty and a restoration of full citizenship, provided they swore an oath of loyalty to the United States.
Revels (seated) replaces Jefferson Davis (left; dressed as Iago from Othello) in Senate. Harper’s Weekly Feb 19, 1870. Davis had been a senator from Mississippi until 1861.

Revel’s term lasted one year, February 1870 to March 3, 1871. He quietly, persistently—although for the most part unsuccessfully—worked for equality. He spoke against an amendment proposed by Senator Allen G. Thurman (D-Ohio) to keep the schools of Washington, D.C., segregated. He nominated a young black man to the United States Military Academy, although he was subsequently denied admission. Revels was successful, however, in championing the cause of black workers who had been barred by their color from working at the Washington Navy Yard.

Revels was praised in the newspapers for his oratorical abilities. His conduct in the Senate, along with that of the other African Americans who had been seated in the House of Representatives, also prompted a white contemporary, James G. Blaine, to say, “The colored men who took their seats in both Senate and House were as a rule studious, earnest, ambitious men, whose public conduct would be honorable to any race.”[4] Some of the bills Hiram Revels was involved with were granting lands and right of way to aid the construction of the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad (41st Congress 2nd Session S. 712), levees on the Mississippi river (41st Congress 3rd Session S. 1136), and the incorporation of the Grand Tabernacle of Galilean Fishermen (41st Congress 3rd Session S. 1251.)


Blanche Kelso Bruce (March 1, 1841 – March 17, 1898) was a U.S. politician who represented Mississippi as a Republican in the U.S. Senate from 1875 to 1881 and was the first elected African American senator to serve a full term. Hiram R. Revels, also of Mississippi, was the first to ever serve in the U.S. Congress, but did not serve a full term.


Bruce was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia near Farmville to Pettis Perkinson, a white Virginia plantation owner, and an African American house slave named Polly Bruce. He was treated comparatively well by his father, who educated him together with his legitimate half-brother. When Blanche Bruce was young, he played with his half-brother. As Blanche Bruce was born enslaved, because of his mother’s status, his father legally freed him and arranged for an apprenticeship so he could learn a trade.
Bruce’s house at 909 M Street NW in Washington, D.C. was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1975

In 1850, Bruce moved to Missouri after becoming a printer’s apprentice. After the Union Army rejected his application to fight in the Civil War, Bruce taught school and attended Oberlin College in Ohio for two years. Then he went to work as a steamboat porter on the Mississippi River. In 1864, he moved to Hannibal, Missouri, where he established a school for blacks.

During Reconstruction, Bruce became a wealthy landowner in the Mississippi Delta. He was appointed to the positions of Tallahatchie County registrar of voters and tax assessor before winning an election for sheriff in Bolivar County. He later was elected to other county positions, including tax collector and supervisor of education, while he also edited a local newspaper. In February 1874, Bruce was elected by the state legislature to the Senate as a Republican. On February 14, 1879, Bruce presided over the U.S. Senate becoming the first African-American (and the only former slave) to do so. In 1880, James Z. George was elected to succeed Bruce.

At the 1880 Republican National Convention in Chicago, Bruce became the first African-American to win any votes at a major party’s nominating convention, winning 8 votes for vice president. In 1881, Bruce was appointed by President James A. Garfield to be the Register of the Treasury, making Bruce the first African-American whose signature was represented on U.S. paper currency. Bruce served as the District of Columbia recorder of deeds in 1891–93, and again as register of the treasury until his death in 1898.

On June 24, 1878, Bruce married Josephine Beal Willson (1853–February 15, 1923) of Cleveland, Ohio amid great publicity; the couple traveled to Europe for a four-month honeymoon. Their only child, Roscoe Conkling Bruce was born in 1879. He was named for New York Senator Roscoe Conkling, Bruce’s mentor in the Senate. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Blanche Bruce on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.


Edward William Brooke, III (born October 26, 1919), is an American politician and was the first African American to be elected by popular vote to the United States Senate when he was elected as a Republican from Massachusetts in 1966, defeating his Democratic opponent, Endicott Peabody, 60.7%–38.7%. He was also the first African American elected to the Senate since the 19th century, and would remain the only person of African heritage sent to the Senate in the 20th century until Democrat Carol Moseley Braun in 1993, and would remain the last Republican Senator from Massachusetts until the 2010 election of Scott Brown.

U.S. Senator

Brooke served as a U.S. senator for two terms, from January 3, 1967, to January 3, 1979. In 1967, he served on the President’s Commission on Civil Disorders. He was a member of the liberal wing of the Republican Party and organized the Senate’s “Wednesday Club” of progressive Republicans who met for Wednesday lunches and strategy discussions. Brooke, who had supported New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s bid for the 1968 GOP presidential nomination against Nixon’s, often differed with President Richard Nixon on matters of social policy and civil rights.

By his second year in the Senate, Brooke had taken his place as a leading advocate against discrimination in housing and on behalf of affordable housing. With fellow Senate Banking Committee Member, Walter Mondale the Minnesota Democrat, he co-authored the 1968 Fair Housing Act which President Johnson signed into law on April 11, one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.. Dissatisfied with the weakened enforcement provisions that emerged from the legislative process, Brooke repeatedly proposed stronger provisions during his Senate career. In 1969, Congress enacted the “Brooke Amendment” to the federal publicly assisted housing program which limited the tenants’ out-of-pocket rent expenditure to 25 percent of his or her income. By the 1990s, the percentage had gradually increased, but the principle of limiting the housing ‘burden’ of very-low income renters survives in statute, as of 2008[update].

Richard M. Nixon (center), then a former Vice President of the United States, campaigns in Massachusetts in the 1966 mid-term elections for U.S. Senate nominee Edward Brooke (left) and Governor John A. Volpe.

During the Nixon years, Brooke opposed repeated Administration attempts to close down the Job Corps and the Office of Economic Opportunity and to weaken the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission–all foundational elements of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

In 1969, Brooke was a leader of the bipartisan coalition that defeated the Senate confirmation of the President’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Clement Haynsworth. A few months later, he again organized sufficient Republican support to defeat Nixon’s second Supreme Court nominee Harrold Carswell. Nixon then turned to Harry A. Blackmun, later the author of Roe v. Wade.

In 1970, the Senate adopted his resolution prohibiting tests of MIRV missiles.

Brooke was re-elected in 1972, defeating Democrat John J. Droney 62%-34%.

Before the first year of his second term ended, Brooke became the first Republican to call on President Nixon to resign, on November 4, 1973, shortly after the Watergate-related “Saturday night massacre”. He had risen to become the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee and on two powerful Appropriations subcommittees, Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) and Foreign Operations. From these positions, Brooke defended and strengthened the programs he identified with; for example, he was a leader in enactment of the Equal Credit Act which ensured married women the right to credit of their own.
Senator Edward Brooke meeting with President Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office shortly after taking office in the Senate in 1967.

In 1974, with Indiana senator Birch Bayh, he led the fight to retain Title IX of the 1972 Education Act which guarantees equal educational opportunity to girls and women.

In 1975, with the extension and expansion of the Voting Rights Act at stake, Brooke faced senator John Stennis (D-Mississippi) in “extended debate” and won the Senate’s support for the extension.

In 1976, he also took on the role of champion for a woman’s right to an abortion. The Appropriations bill for HHS became the battleground over this issue because it funds Medicaid. The foes of abortion rights fought, eventually successfully, to prohibit funding for abortions of low-income women insured by Medicaid. Brooke led the fight against restrictions in the Senate Appropriations Committee and in the House-Senate Conference until his defeat.


Carol Elizabeth Moseley Braun (born August 16, 1947) is an American politician and lawyer who represented Illinois in the United States Senate from 1993 to 1999. She was the first and, as of 2009[update], the only, African-American woman elected to the United States Senate, the first woman to defeat an incumbent senator in an election, and the first and to date only female Senator from Illinois. From 1999 until 2001, she was the United States Ambassador to New Zealand. She was a candidate for the Democratic nomination during the 2004 U.S. presidential election.

Public service career

As an attorney, Moseley Braun was a prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s office in Chicago from 1973 to 1977. An Assistant United States Attorney, she worked primarily in the civil and appellate law areas and tried cases of national importance.[citation needed] Her work in housing, health policy, and environmental law won her the Attorney General’s Special Achievement Award. She subsequently received over 300 awards for achievements in the public interest.

Moseley Braun was first elected to public office in 1978, as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives. There, she rose to the post of assistant majority leader. As a State Representative, she became recognized as a champion for education, governmental reform, and civil rights.[citation needed] As early as 1984, she proposed a moratorium on the application in Illinois of the death penalty. And in what became a landmark reapportionment case, Crosby vs State Board of Elections, she successfully sued her own party and the state of Illinois on behalf of African American and Hispanic citizens. When she left the state legislature in 1987, her colleagues recognized her in a resolution as “the conscience of the House.” That same year, she was elected as Cook County, Illinois, Recorder of Deeds, a post she held for four years.
U.S. Senator Moseley Braun

In 1991, angered by incumbent Democratic senator Alan Dixon’s vote to confirm Clarence Thomas, Moseley Braun challenged him in the primary election. Candidate Albert Hofeld’s campaign ran many anti-Dixon ads, and Moseley Braun won the primary, ultimately defeating Richard S. Williamson in the Senate election. On November 3, 1992, she became the first African American woman to be elected to the United States Senate. Her election marked the first time Illinois had elected a woman, and the first time a black person was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate. She (along with Edward Brooke) was one of two African-Americans to serve in the Senate in the 20th century, and was the sole African-American in the Senate from 1993 to 1999.
Female Senators of the Democratic Party, 1993. Top Row (L-R): Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Bottom Row: Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Despite her reputation as a liberal, Moseley Braun possessed something of a centrist record on economic issues. She voted for the 1993 budget package and against the welfare reform laws passed in 1996, but on many other matters she was more conservative. Moseley Braun voted in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and lawsuit reform measures like the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (she was also among the minority of Democrats to support the even more controversial Common Sense Product Liability and Legal Reform Act of 1995). She also voted contrary to the interests of the more populist wing of the party by voting for the Freedom to Farm Act and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Like her Illinois colleague, fellow Democrat Paul Simon, she voted in favor of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the United States Constitution and also to place a nuclear dump in Nevada, a move strongly opposed by many Democrats, especially current Majority Leader Harry Reid.

On social issues however, she was significantly more liberal than many of her fellow senators. She was strongly pro-choice, voting against the ban on partial-birth abortions and the restrictions on funding in military bases for abortions. She also voted against the death penalty and in favor of gun control measures. Moseley Braun was one of only sixteen senators to vote against the Communications Decency Act and one of only fourteen to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act. She delivered a eulogy to Thurgood Marshall on January 26, 1993.


Barack Hussein Obama II ( born August 4, 1961) is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as the junior United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned after his election to the presidency in November 2008.

Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was the president of the Harvard Law Review and where he received a doctorate in law. He was a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree. He worked as a civil rights attorney in Chicago and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004.

Obama served three terms in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004. Following an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000, he ran for United States Senate in 2004. Several events brought him to national attention during the campaign, including his victory in the March 2004 Democratic primary election for the United States Senator from Illinois and his prime-time televised keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004. He won election to the U.S. Senate in November 2004.

Obama’s presidential campaign began in February 2007, and after a close campaign in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries against Hillary Rodham Clinton, he won his party’s nomination. In the 2008 general election, he defeated Republican nominee John McCain and was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009. Obama is also the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.


Roland Wallace Burris (born August 3, 1937) is the junior United States Senator from the state of Illinois and a member of the Democratic Party.

In 1978, Burris was the first African American elected to statewide office in Illinois, when he was elected Illinois Comptroller. He served in that office until his election as Illinois Attorney General in 1990. Since then, he has run for office four more times unsuccessfully.

Under controversial circumstances, Burris was appointed by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to replace President-Elect Barack Obama as the junior senator from Illinois. Prior to Burris’s appointment, Obama was the U.S. Senate’s only Black American; he resigned his Senate seat after being elected President of the United States. Burris was the subject of an ethics probe.

Calls for Burris’s resignation from the Senate began after allegations were made that he had lied under oath about his contacts with associates of Blagojevich prior to his appointment. The Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s office and the Senate Ethics Committee are each investigating whether Burris perjured himself in his testimony before an Illinois House of Representatives committee in connection with the Blagojevich impeachment proceedings. On ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson on May 27, 2009, a recording was played of Burris’s conversation with Rod Blagojevich in which Burris is allegedly heard to be negotiating on the price for receiving Obama’s Senate seat. Ethics charges were dropped against Burris, due to a lack of supporting evidence in late June 2009.


Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen, Philip Dray (Author)

Hiram Revels in Illinois: A biographical novel about a lost chapter in the life of America’s first black U.S. senator, Martin Litvin (Author)

Hiram R. Revels, 1827-1901: A Biography, Julius E. Thompson (Author)

Gentleman from Mississippi : Our First Negro Senator Hiram R Revels, Elizabeth; William L Patterson (intro) Lawson (Author)

The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America’s First Black Dynasty, Lawrence Otis Graham (Author)

Lawrence O. Graham discusses the book on The Senator and the Socialite on C-Span’s AfterWords on Book TV.

Blanche K. Bruce, ~ Blanche Kelso Bruce (Author)

Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880–1920 , WILLIAM B. GATEWOOD JR (Author)

The fighting Congressmen: Thaddeus Stephens, Hiram Revels, James Rapier, Blanche K. Bruce (Firebird books) (Hardcover)
~ Henrietta Buckmaster (Author)

Bridging the Divide: My Life, Edward Brooke (Author)

Amazon’s Barack Obama Page

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