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The Fifteenth Amendment in Flesh and Blood

The Symbolic Generation of Black Americans in Congress, 1870–1887

These pioneering African-American Representatives symbolized a new democratic order in the United States, demonstrating not only courage but also relentless determination. They often braved elections marred by violence and fraud. With nuance and tact they balanced the needs of black and white constituents in their Southern districts, and they argued passionately for legislation promoting racial equality. Though pushed to the margins of the institutional power structure, the black Representatives nevertheless believed they had an important role as advocates for the United States’s newest citizens. Read “‘The Fifteenth Amendment in Flesh and Blood’”…

The Negroes’ Temporary Farewell

Jim Crow and the Exclusion of African Americans from Congress, 1887–1929

By the 1890s, most Black Americans had either been barred from or abandoned electoral politics in frustration. Advocacy for blacks in Congress became substantially more difficult. After Representative George White’s departure from the House of Representatives in March 1901, no African American served in the U.S. Congress for nearly three decades. The length and persistence of this exile from national politics starkly conveyed the sweeping success of the system of racial segregation imposed upon blacks by law and custom, known widely as “Jim Crow.” Read “‘The Negroes’ Temporary Farewell’”…

Keeping the Faith

African Americans Return to Congress, 1929–1970

With his election to the U.S. House of Representatives from a Chicago district in 1928, Oscar De Priest of Illinois became the first African American to serve in Congress since George White of North Carolina left office in 1901 and the first elected from a northern state. But while De Priest’s victory symbolized renewed hope for African Americans struggling to regain a foothold in national politics, it was only the beginning of an arduous journey. The election of just a dozen more African Americans to Congress over the next 40 years was stark evidence of modern America’s pervasive segregation practices. Read “Keeping the Faith”…

Permanent Interests

The Expansion, Organization, and Rising Influence of African Americans in Congress, 1971–2007

The modern era of African Americans’ nearly 140-year history in Congress began in 1971. During this period, black Members enjoyed a tremendous surge in numbers, at least in the House, reflecting a larger historical process, as minority groups and women exercised their new freedom to participate in American society. These startling gains derived from the legacy of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its subsequent extensions, as well as from Supreme Court decisions requiring legislative redistricting. The post-1970 generation of Black Americans in Congress marked a watershed in American history—a transition from a period of prolonged protest to full political participation. Read “Permanent Interests”…