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African Americans in Senate History


Jesse Nichols

The role of African Americans in Senate and Capitol history is not limited to those who served in elected office. One of the most lasting contributions of African Americans to Senate history, for example, came with the Capitol’s construction. Historical evidence shows that many of the laborers and artisans who built the Capitol were African American, both free and enslaved. Philip Reid’s mechanical expertise helped place the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome in 1863. In 1868 Senate employee Kate Brown sued a railroad company that forcibly removed her from a train because of her race. That case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Brown’s favor in 1873. Among the first African Americans to be hired in professional clerical positions were Robert Ogle and Jesse Nichols. Senate staff members Thomas Thornton and Christine McCreary and news correspondent Louis Lautier challenged the de facto segregation of Capitol Hill in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Alfonso Lenhardt, who served as sergeant at arms from 2001 to 2003, was the first African American to hold one of the top two administrative positions in the Senate. On July 7, 2003, the Senate appointed Dr. Barry C. Black as Senate chaplain, another first for African Americans in the Senate.