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Hiram Revels: Reconstructing Adversity
After the Emancipation Proclamation was officially released in 1863, the vast majority of African Americans in the U.S. were granted certain liberties that were withheld from them in the past (Haskins). Such a man who would experience liberties was Hiram Revels, who became the first African American to sit on the United States Senate for the state of Mississippi. How did he accomplish this in a state known for its extreme racism? Hiram Revels captivated the state of Mississippi with his charisma, intelligence, innate leadership abilities and bravery in the face of adversity.
The Reconstruction era in American History can be looked at as either positive or negative depending on what points one chooses to focus but there is an understanding that without this era in our American history; our country would not have been given the chance to “bloom where they were planted”. In essence, the reconstruction period in our history is exactly that; it gave our nation a chance to start over, to reform and to improve.
For Hiram Revels, a small time minister from the south, the reconstruction era paved the way for immense possibilities and opportunities for himself and for his neighbors of African American linage. Having protected our young nation during the Civil War and proving his place in our past society, Hiram quickly became a popular minister through out the south, preaching to people from all walks of life. This is because Hiram Revels was born with the power of charismatic communication. When he spoke, people listened, people were motivated and finally people gave Revels their trust regardless of his race.
Having been born into a society that considered him a free born “black”, Revels was technically from a family of mixed ancient African American and Caucasian blood. He claimed his ancestors “as far back as my knowledge extends, were free.”1 In history, it is believed that he gained the trust of his religious gatherings because all people could identify with him; blacks because of his kinky black hair and African features and whites because of his uniquely blue eyes and tanned (but not black) skin. He was the best of both worlds when our nation was beginning to feel the fierce contribution of the African American people and when white society was on their way to reconstructing their thoughts to include a variety of people into their world.
Hiram Revels was a unique individual that our young nation needed right when we needed it the most. During a time when not many people were educated, Revels received an immense variety of education. He was privately tutored during his childhood then moved on to study seminary at Union County Quaker Seminary in Liberty, Indiana and then again at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois (Hildebrand).
Hiram is believed, in history, to have been elected into many leadership positions because of his ability to retain important information and relate it to his audience. Revels was considered a highly educated man which qualified him as the opportune choice for certain positions whereas anyone else of lesser intellect would be considered incompetent.
The superior intelligence of Hiram Revels during the time of Reconstruction contributed, in large, to him being elected and seated in the United States Senate. At this time, state legislatures had to vote a person into any governmental seat so, at this time, the people of Mississippi were not able to vote Revels into office. However, it did not matter how he was voted in; whether by the people or the state legislature because male African American Republicans, now given citizenship and the right to vote, would still have voted Revels into office as Republican Senator for the state of Mississippi.
Hiram Revels was very fortunate to be given the opportunities that he was given during Reconstruction. Because he was a very highly educated and charismatic person in general, he tended to gain a large loyal following (consisting largely of religious followers) which helped him in many ways gain influence within the state legislature and win the vote for a seat in the United States Senate.
This argument from the Ku Klux Klan, however, was snuffed out when the United States government countered that African Americans were indeed granted the right to United States citizenship regardless of whether they were born before the amendment was ratified or not. Also, they reminded the Klan that the Dred Scott decision was null-and-void per the Supreme Court and Constitutional amendment. As it must be said, history can show that the KKK has a long history of presenting invalid racist arguments before the people and this, it can be agreed in modern society, is because the KKK has always largely consisted of uneducated (or poorly educated) southern white men (Hildebrand).
In combination with his charisma and superior intellect, Revels also possessed an innate ability to become a leader when our country needed one the most. The Mississippi state legislature obviously saw leadership capabilities within Revels performance and long standing career as chaplain, minister and preacher. They saw that with the combination to “woo” people from all walks of life and impress them with his ability to recall important facts through his intellectual background that he could indeed make a great Senator to represent the state of Mississippi at a Federal level.
Revels was voted into the United State Senate by a massive win of 51-18 because of his previous leadership roles within southern religious groups (Haskins). Just before the Senate agreed to admit a black man to its ranks on February 25, Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts sized up the importance of the moment: “All men are created equal, says the great Declaration,” Sumner roared, “and now a great act attests this verity. Today we make the Declaration a reality…. The Declaration was only half established by Independence. The greatest duty remained behind. In assuring the equal rights of all we complete the work.” 2Revels also helped establish and found countless African American schools, colleges and universities which made him appear very fitting for the position of “spokesperson” for Ole Mississippi.
His position was not so much because the people of Mississippi liked him, which they did (they loved him) but because he had the favor of the Mississippi government. It is in this way that he won the state legislature vote for the senate seat which had not been filled since the beginning of the civil war. Revels only served on the Senate for Mississippi for one year but in that one year he never stopped pushing for equal treatment of all races. While in office, in fact, his two big “causes” were educational reform (establish more schools) and humanitarian equality (all people are equal) (Hildebrand).
If we take a step back and view what has happened to our country in history and what liberties we presently enjoy; we see that the works of Hiram Revels and all other minority office holders we can see that these people are the ones who have most drastically influenced the enlightened progress of our nation. Without these minorities seeking to better themselves in a new world, majority white European citizens would not have so many freedoms currently presented within The United States of America.
One of the most important aspects of Reconstruction was the active participation of African Americans (including thousands of former slaves) in the political, economic and social life of the South (“African-American Leaders During Reconstruction”). Reconstruction during that era in our history opened so many doors for minorities to prove themselves equal to “the white man” and for that the reconstruction period, it can be concluded, cannot possibly have been so negative an era for the United States because many of the rights we have, stemmed from the reconstruction of our nation brought force by our ancestors so very long ago (Haskins). We, as one nation, should be very thankful that they were brave enough to pursue their infinite happiness.
When you consider the difficult position that Hiram Revels was in when he was running for the Senate seat for the state of Mississippi, it is quite obviously have hard he should have had to work for the majority vote but it was not like that for this man in history because he possessed attributes that are now very rare to find in one politician. We had honest charisma which allowed him, as a mulatto in Mississippi to win the hearts of the experienced politicians in the Mississippi legislature.
The majority African American Republican voters in Mississippi also loved, admired and respected him because of his position within the “church” and because of his work to improve African American education. Also, many of the whites in Mississippi at the time admired Revels because of his uncanny intellect and because of his motivational work conducted as a chaplain in the American Civil War. Hiram Revels was always a mixed African-American/White in a state that is notorious for their extreme racism against African Americans.
However, this man was brave enough to conquer adversity. Its very intriguing to learn that he only served a year on the U.S. Senate because of the amount of respect he gained during this time but it is also understood that he stepped down from his position in the U.S. Senate because a man this big in history has to move on to improve and accomplish some other task.
Hiram Revels the small time minister from the south captivated our young nation during a time when hope and change were in the works for amending our country more than ever before. Revels had the power and the motivation to bring invaluable experience to the United States during the Reconstruction period and because of the experience and the history that Hiram Revels paved for himself and because of the influence on our country that we can still feel from his position in the United States senate; the reconstruction era can be said to have been a positive turning point in American history regardless of all of the negatives presented such as the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Hiram Revels helped reconstruct adversity by carving out his rightful spot within the American government from his position in the U.S. Senate and Congress. Through his charismatic personality, education, innate leadership abilities and bravery in the face of adversity, Hiram Revels helped to improve, refresh and reconstruct our nation during the reconstruction era.
HarpWeek (Harpers Weekly). Accessed April 8, 2012. http://blackhistory.harpweek.com/7Illustrations/Reconstruction/TimeWorksWonders.htm.
Haskins, James. Distinguished African American Political and Governmental Leaders. Oryx Press, 1999.
Office of History and Preservation, Office of the Clerk, Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008.
http://baic.house.gov/member-profiles/profile.html?intID=14 (April 20, 2012).
United States Congress. Accessed April 7, 2012.
United States Senate. Accessed April 9, 2012. http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/history/h_multi_sections_and_teasers/Photo_Exhibit_African_American_Senators.htm
“African-American Leaders During Reconstruction,” The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/topics/african-american-leaders-during-reconstruction (accessed April 2, 2012).
Foner, Eric. Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction. 1996.
Hildebrand, Reginald F. The Times Were Strange and Stirring: Methodist Preachers and the Crisis of Emancipation. Duke University Press, 1995.
Lawson, Elizabeth. The Gentleman From Mississippi: Our First Negro Representative, Hiram R. Revels (New York: privately printed, 1960).