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Welcome to Senate Stories, our new Senate history blog. This blog features stories that reveal the depth and breadth of Senate history from the well-known and notorious to the unusual and whimsical. Presented to enlighten, amuse, and inform, Senate Stories explores the forces, events, and personalities that have shaped the modern Senate.

For more notable moments in Senate history, please visit our Historical Highlights collection.


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1880 Census Document Identifying Andrew F. Slade as a "Page in the Senate" 202102 8Andrew Slade: First African American Senate Page
February 8, 2021
In April 1965, Senator Jacob Javits of New York appointed Lawrence Bradford, Jr., to be a Senate page. In celebrating the appointment, Javits and journalists identified Bradford as the first African American to serve in the Senate’s historic page program. Bradford’s appointment was a milestone, but there’s one problem with this celebration—while Bradford was certainly a trailblazer in his time, he was not, in fact, the first African American page. That distinction belongs to Andrew Foote Slade, a young man who served as a page between 1869 and 1881.

In April 1965, Senator Jacob Javits of New York appointed Lawrence Bradford, Jr., to be a Senate page. In celebrating the appointment, Javits and journalists identified Bradford as the first African American to serve in the Senate’s historic page program. Bradford’s appointment was a milestone, but there’s one problem with this celebration—while Bradford was certainly a trailblazer in his time, he was not, in fact, the first African American page. That distinction belongs to Andrew Foote Slade, a young man who served as a page between 1869 and 1881. Slade’s story, forgotten in the Senate by the 1960s, offers a window not just into the Senate of the late 19th century, but into the history of Washington, D.C.’s, free Black community.1 Andrew Slade was born in 1857, the son of Josephine Parke and William Slade, a prominent free Black couple from the District of Columbia. Josephine, born as a free woman in 1818, was the daughter of a woman who had been enslaved by George Washington’s step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, on his Arlington, Virginia, estate. William was born free in 1814; his mother was formerly enslaved by the Foote family of Virginia. Henry Foote later represented Mississippi in the Senate. William believed, in fact, that his mother was Senator Foote’s half-sister.2 During the 1850s Andrew's father William was a porter at Brown’s Indian Queen Hotel, a posh establishment popular with Washington’s political elite. There he made connections that eventually took him to the White House. With a recommendation from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, William first took a job at the Treasury Department as a messenger in 1861. In 1862 he was appointed to Abraham Lincoln’s White House, where free people of color were integral to its daily operations.3 William’s title was “usher,” one of the highest posts in the Executive Mansion staff. Andrew's mother, Josephine, also periodically worked at the White House as a seamstress, alongside African American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly. The couple’s children, including Andrew, often played with young Tad Lincoln, even hosting him at their home, the boardinghouse they owned and operated on Massachusetts Avenue.4 In the White House, William Slade was not just a servant but a confidante of the president, someone Lincoln turned to as he considered the weighty questions of emancipation and the fate of freed African Americans. The Slades were leading figures in the District’s free Black community. William was an elder of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. As freed African Americans flooded into the capital during the war, the Slades, along with friend and colleague Elizabeth Keckly, created the Contraband Relief Association to provide assistance and organized a school at the First Colored Baptist Church. William served as president of the Social, Civil, and Statistical Association, an organization dedicated to achieving Black citizenship following the war. Josephine was a leading organizer in the movement for universal suffrage.5 After the death of President Lincoln, William Slade continued to work at the White House under President Andrew Johnson, who appointed him steward in 1865. William died three years later at age 53. President Johnson paid his respects at the Slade home, and the funeral was officiated by Howard University president and former Senate chaplain Byron Sunderland, an abolitionist preacher. With William gone, Josephine Slade became the head of a household that included a son and daughter in their 20s and three younger children, including 11-year-old Andrew.6 Andrew Slade was appointed as a Senate page in December 1869. He had been educated in a school in the District of Columbia for Black children established by African American civil rights activist John F. Cook, Jr. Andrew owed his appointment to Sergeant at Arms John R. French, an opponent of slavery and supporter of Black rights who had been friends with his father William. The Baltimore Sun noted the appointment and described Andrew as “a bright mulatto boy, son of . . . the late colored steward of the White House.” The writer speculated that the boy would be assigned as a special page to Senator Charles Sumner, another defender of Black civil rights who had been acquainted with his father. Although Andrew had not yet worked in the Chamber, the article stated that he was “on duty in the corridors.” Another reporter commented on Andrew’s light complexion and suggested that “such is the prejudice against a color, even milk-and-molasses color, that it has been thought best to introduce him by degrees into the Senate Chamber, lest the Caucasian pages leave en masse.” As was the case with other pages, Andrew’s salary, $3 per day, was paid to his mother.7 Historians have long known that many page appointments were given to local orphans or children of widowed mothers. While this appeared to be a way for the Senate to provide benefits to families in need, Josephine was anything but destitute. William left her a sizeable estate of $100,000, including $14,000 in real estate. But Josephine was a widow, nevertheless.8 Andrew’s first stint as a page was a short one. In 1870 his sister Marie Louise, a copyist at the U.S. Pension Office, married a prominent Black Arkansas politician named James W. Mason. Andrew, his mother, and his siblings all moved with Marie and her new husband to Arkansas later that year. In 1872, Josephine Slade passed away, leaving Andrew an orphan. The next year, he enrolled at Oberlin College’s preparatory school in Ohio and attended for one year.9 Andrew returned to Washington in January 1874, now 16 years old, and was again appointed as a page. Senate records list him as the ward of longtime assistant doorkeeper James I. Christie. Later that year, his sister returned to Washington following the death of her husband and Andrew spent the rest of the decade living with her while working as a page. He served as a riding page delivering messages throughout the District and eventually became a mail carrier for the Senate Post Office. He also likely worked on the Chamber floor and was reportedly a favorite of Vice President Henry Wilson. Andrew, in fact, helped attend to Wilson as he lay dying in his office across the corridor from the Chamber in 1875. 10 The Senate had no maximum age for pages in the late 19th century, so Andrew continued as a page into November 1881, when he was 24 years old. In December he applied for a position at the Pension Commission, supported by a recommendation from Democratic senator George Pendleton of Ohio, famous for his 1883 Civil Service Reform Act. In 1882, while visiting or living in Warwick, New York, Andrew submitted an application for a position at the Department of the Interior, with recommendations from Garland, Senator Henry Teller of Colorado—who had recently left the Senate to serve as secretary of the department—and T. W. Ferry of the Senate Post Office.11 It is unknown whether Andrew gained another government position, but by 1886 he was living in Philadelphia and working at the Tribune newspaper, the city’s recently founded African American paper. A reporter from the Washington Bee, another African American paper, noted meeting Andrew on a visit to the Tribune’s offices and described him as a man with “a good heart and a mild disposition” who was “well known in Washington.” The historical record offers little information about how Andrew fared in Philadelphia. In 1899 he is listed in the city directory as a driver. He died that year, at the age of 42, leaving behind a wife, Laura.12 Andrew Slade’s story, incomplete though it may be, offers a glimpse into an era of dramatic social changes in and around the Capitol and the role played by this prominent Black family. Andrew's mother and father both walked the corridors of official Washington and used what power they had to fight for the rights of African Americans in an era when those rights were under constant siege. Their stature likely opened the doors of the Senate to their son at a time when others like him would have been denied the opportunity. We are left wondering, however, what Andrew thought about his position in the Senate and how he was received by senators of the 1870s. What role did Andrew’s race play in his experiences in and around the Senate Chamber? How did senators view Andrew, especially those former Confederates who returned to Congress in the years after Reconstruction, dedicated to maintaining the racial caste system in their home states? Perhaps Andrew Slade’s very presence served as a reminder to senators of the insecure future of Black Americans outside the Capitol. All of these questions and more will fuel future research by Senate historians.
Notes
1. “Pioneer Senate Page: Lawrence Wallace Bradford, Jr.,” New York Times, April 14, 1965, 26. 2. Blake Wintory, “Biography of Josephine Lewis (Parke) Slade, 1818-1872,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists, https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cbibliographic_details%7C5075826?account_id=45340&usage_group_id=45068#page/1/mode/1/chapter/bibliographic_entity|bibliographic_details|5075826. The District of Columbia was a popular destination for formerly enslaved African Americans manumitted from the upper South, leading to a free population of over 11,000 by 1860, about 20 percent of the city’s population. Dorothy Provine, “The Economic Position of the Free Blacks in the District of Columbia, 1800–1860,” Journal of Negro History 58, no. 1 (Jan. 1973), 61. 3. John E. Washington, They Knew Lincoln (Oxford University Press, 2018; originally published 1942); James B. Conroy, “Slavery’s Mark on Lincoln’s White House,” White House Historical Association, https://www.whitehousehistory.org/slaverys-mark-on-lincolns-white-house. 4. Wintory, “Biography of Marie Louise (Slade) Mason, 1844-1919,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists, https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cbibliographic_details%7C4744667?account_id=45340&usage_group_id=45068#page/1/mode/1/chapter/bibliographic_entity|bibliographic_details|4744667; Conroy, “Slavery’s Mark on Lincoln’s White House.” 5. Natalie Sweet, “A Representative ‘of Our People’: The Agency of William Slade, Leader in the African American Community and Usher to Abraham Lincoln,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 34, no. 2 (Summer 2013), 21–41, http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.2629860.0034.204; Diaries of Julia Wilbur, 1860–66, April 20, 1865, https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/civilwar/JuliaWilburDiary1860to1866.pdf. 6. Ancestry.com, 1870 Census, Washington Ward 4, Washington, District of Columbia, Roll: M593_124, 780A; Family History Library Film: 545623; Sweet, “A Representative ‘of Our People.’” 7. Receipts and Expenditures of Senate, 1870, Mis. Doc. 8, 41st Cong., 3d Sess., 2; Progressive American(NY), undated, in Isaac Bassett Papers, Box 34, Folder E, p. 130,Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46, National Archives, Washington, DC [online version available through Archives Research Catalog (ARC Identifier 5423162) at www.archives.gov]; “Colored Page in the Senate,” Baltimore Sun, December 16, 1869, 1; “The Alta on Our Colored Brother,” San Jose Mercury News, December 28, 1869, 3; Assistant Doorkeeper Isaac Bassett noted in his unpublished memoir Andrew’s appointment as the “first colored page.” Isaac Bassett's Papers, Box 3, Folder A, p. 31, Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46, National Archives, Washington, DC [online version available through Archives Research Catalog (ARC Identifier 5423058) at www.archives.gov]. 8. Wintory, “Josephine Lewis (Parke) Slade,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists. 9. “Colored Female Clerks,” Washington Evening Star, March 27, 1869, 1; Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Oberlin College for the College Year 1873–74, 29; Wintory, “Marie Louise (Slade) Mason,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists. 10. Receipts and Expenditures of Senate, Mis. Doc. 74, 43d Cong., 2d Sess., 1875, 10. Senator George Pendleton’s recommendation letter for Slade in 1881 indicated that he worked in the Senate Chamber. See Slade, Andrew F., File 2942, Appointments Division, Applications and Appointments 1881, Box no. 65, Department of the Interior, Record Group 48, National Archives, College Park, MD; Progressive American(NY), undated, in Isaac Bassett Papers. 11. Slade, Andrew F., File 2942, Appointments Division, Applications and Appointments 1881, Box no. 65, Department of the Interior, Record Group 48, National Archives, College Park, MD; Slade, Andrew F., Appointment, File 874, Division, Applications and Appointments 1882, Box no. 72, Entry 27, Record Group 48, Department of the Interior, National Archives, College Park, MD. Special thanks to Blake Wintory for sharing his research. 12. “Our Visit to Philadelphia,” Washington Bee, November 13, 1886; "Andrew Slade," Washington Bee, August 26, 1899. We know much more about Slade’s sister Marie Louise, who moved to Montana in 1889 and became a leader in the movement for women’s suffrage. She later moved to Paris and then London with her daughter, who studied to be an artist. See Wintory, “Marie Louise (Slade) Mason,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists. Slade’s sister Katherine Slade went on to become a teacher and was a key source for John Washington’s They Knew Lincoln.
Studio photograph of Senator Hiram Revels. 202002 25Hiram Revels: First African American Senator
February 25, 2020
One hundred and fifty years ago, on February 25, 1870, visitors in the packed Senate galleries burst into applause as Senator-elect Hiram Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, entered the Chamber to take his oath of office. Those present knew that they were witnessing an event of great historical significance. Revels was about to become the first African American to serve in the United States Congress.

Welcome to Senate Stories, our new Senate history blog. In recognition of Black History Month, our first blog post celebrates the sesquicentennial of the swearing in of Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American senator. One hundred and fifty years ago, on February 25, 1870, visitors in the packed Senate galleries burst into applause as Senator-elect Hiram Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, entered the Chamber to take his oath of office. Those present knew that they were witnessing an event of great historical significance. Revels was about to become the first African American to serve in the United States Congress. Just 22 days earlier, on February 3, the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting states from disenfranchising voters “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Revels was indeed “the Fifteenth Amendment in flesh and blood,” as his contemporary, the civil rights activist Wendell Phillips, dubbed him. Hiram Revels was born a free man in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on September 27, 1827, the son of a Baptist preacher. As a youth, he took lessons at a private school run by an African American woman and eventually traveled north to further his education. He attended seminaries in Indiana and Ohio, becoming a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1845, and eventually studied theology at Knox College in Illinois. During the turbulent decade of the 1850s, Revels preached to free and enslaved men and women in various states while surreptitiously assisting fugitive slaves. When the Civil War began in 1861, Revels was serving as a pastor in Baltimore. Before long, he was forming regiments of African American soldiers in Maryland, serving as a Union army chaplain in Mississippi, and establishing schools for freed slaves in Missouri. He settled in Natchez, Mississippi, at war’s end, where he served as presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1868 he gained his first elected position, as alderman for the town of Natchez. The next year he won election to the state senate, as one of 35 African Americans elected to the Mississippi state legislature that year. In 1870, as Mississippi sought readmission to representation in the U.S. Congress, the Republican Party firmly controlled both houses of Congress and also dominated the southern state legislatures. That, along with the pending ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, set the stage for the election of Congress’s first African American members. One of the first orders of business for the new Mississippi state legislature when it convened on January 11, 1870, was to fill the vacancies in the United States Senate, which had remained empty since the 1861 withdrawal of Albert Brown and future Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Representing around one-quarter of the state legislative body, the black legislators insisted that one of the vacancies be filled by a black member of the Republican Party. “An opportunity of electing a Republican to the United States Senate, to fill an unexpired term occurred,” Revels later recalled, “and the colored members after consulting together on the subject, agreed to give their influence and votes for one of their own race for that position, as it would in their judgement be a weakening blow against color line prejudice.” Since Revels had impressed his colleagues with an impassioned prayer at the opening of the session, legislators agreed that the shorter of the two terms, set to expire in March 1871, would go to him. Mississippi gained readmission on February 23, 1870, and Senator Henry Wilson, one of the Senate’s strongest civil rights advocates, promptly presented Revels’s credentials to the Senate. Immediately, three senators issued a challenge. They charged that Revels had not been a U.S. citizen for the constitutionally required nine years. Citing the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, they argued that Revels did not gain citizenship until at least 1866, with passage of that year’s civil rights act, and perhaps not until the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868. By this logic, Revels could claim that he had been a U.S. citizen for, at most, four years. Revels and his supporters dismissed the challenge. The Fourteenth Amendment had repealed the Dred Scott decision, they insisted, and they pointed out that long before 1866 Revels had voted in the state of Ohio. Certainly that qualified him as a citizen. “The time has passed for argument. Nothing more need be said …. For a long time it has been clear that colored persons must be senators,” Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner declared, bringing the debate to an end with a stirring speech. “All men are created equal, says the great Declaration, and now a great act attests to this verity. Today we make the Declaration a reality.” By an overwhelming margin, the Senate voted 48 to 8 to seat Revels. Escorted to the well by Senator Wilson, Revels took the oath of office on February 25, 1870. Three weeks later, the Senate galleries were again filled to capacity as Revels rose to deliver his maiden speech. Seeing himself as a representative of African American interests throughout the nation, Revels spoke against an amendment to the Georgia readmission bill that could be used to prevent blacks from holding state office. “Perhaps it were wiser for me, so inexperienced in the details of senatorial duties, to have remained a passive listener in the progress of this debate,” he began, acknowledging the Senate tradition of waiting a year or more to deliver a major address, “but when I remember that my term is short, and that the issues with which this bill is fraught are momentous in their present and future influence upon the well-being of my race, I would seem indifferent to the importance of the hour and recreant to the high trust imposed upon me if I hesitated to lend my voice on behalf of the loyal people of the South.” Revels made good use of his time in office, championing education for black Americans, speaking out against racial segregation, and fighting efforts to undermine the civil and political rights of African Americans. When his brief term ended on March 3, 1871, he returned to Mississippi, where he later became president of Alcorn College. During the Reconstruction Era, a total of 17 African Americans served in the United States Congress, 15 in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate. In 1874 the Mississippi legislature elected Blanche K. Bruce to a full Senate term. Bruce, who had escaped slavery at the outbreak of the Civil War, became the first African American to preside over the Senate in 1879. Another eight decades passed before Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts followed in Revels and Bruce’s historic footsteps to take office in 1967. The significance of the courageous and pioneering service of Revels, Bruce, and the other African American congressmen of the Reconstruction Era cannot be overstated. Although the struggle to fully achieve equality would continue for years to come, their remarkable accomplishments opened doors for others to follow.