139 Years Later, Black Senators Still Rare In U.S. ...
One hundred and thirty-nine years have passed since the first African-American took a seat in the U.S. Senate, and after all these years, a black face in the Senate chamber is about as rare as a single mom with octuplets.
On this date In 1870, Hiram Revels became the first black man ever to sit in Congress, and even then he got in on somewhat of a technicality. You see, some Southern Democrats fought the appointment, citing the Dred Scott Decision, which ruled that African slaves along with their descendants could not be U.S. citizens. They reasoned that Senators had to have nine years of citizenship, and since the 14th Amendment gave blacks citizenship only two years prior, that Revels did not qualify.
His supporters fought back, founding their argument on the premise that Dred Scott only applied to full-blooded blacks, and since Revels was of mixed Black and White ancestry he was always a citizen. Their argument won out, and he was voted in 48 to 8.
Revels was the leading edge of Twenty-Three Black legislators who swept into congress during Reconstruction, and in that number there was only one more African-American Senator, Blanche K. Bruce, who became the first full-term Black Senator in U.S. history. This swell of Black lawmakers ended in 1901, when Southern Democrats regained control of the state legislatures, and began to disenfranchise black voters with violence and the infamous "poll tests." This resulted in 28 years of Congress without Black Senators or Representatives.
The Great Migration of African-Americans to northern cities in the 20's and 30's created new majority-black congressional districts, which opened the door for Blacks to return to Congress. Hailing from the South-Side of Chicago, Oscar DePriest won the First Congressional District as a Republican in 1928, but an African-American would not return to the Senate until Ed Brooke from Massachusetts won in 1966.
Since Brooke, only two other African-Americans, Carol Mosley Braun and our sitting President Barack Obama, both from Illinois, have been able to win a Senator's seat. Some say this demonstrates how difficult it is for a Black man or woman to win statewide election in a nation that has no majority-black states.
The latest Black Senator, a product of questionable political maneuvering by a disgraced former Illinois Governor, is Roland Burris, who due to his own scandal, may not be one for long. That makes a total of six African-Americans in the Upper House since its conception, six in one hundred thirty-nine years. Let's just hope we can elect some more before the next edition of Octomom.