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Outstanding African Americans of Congress

Dr. Shirley Washington (1998) 

Outstanding African Americans of Congress by Dr. Shirley Washington highlights the lives and accomplishments of twelve notable African Americans who have served in Congress. The book profiles one Senator and eleven House members who were chosen for their unique qualities and contributions.

Washington’s book begins with a brief look at the first African Americans elected to Congress in the post-Civil War era. In 1870 Hiram Rhodes Revels was elected to the U.S. Senate by the Mississippi state legislature to fill the unexpired Senate term of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis. His term came to an end in 1871. Twenty-two African Americans served in Congress from the end of the Civil War to the turn of the 20th century. However, for 28 years, no African American served in Congress until Oscar De Priest was elected to the House of Representatives in 1928.  Senator Edward W. Brooke III entered the U.S. Senate in 1967 as the first African American to be seated in that exclusive body since Mississippi Senators Revels and Blanche Kelso Bruce had served almost a hundred years earlier.

Other profiles include Shirley Chisholm, who was known as a feminist, teacher, and child care advocate. Walter Fauntroy was a delegate from the District of Columbia who championed representation for D.C. voters.  William H. Gray III was the first African American to be elected House majority whip and was known for his ability to lead. Augustus Hawkins was a proponent of economic opportunities for all segments of society. Barbara Jordan was an ardent defender of the Constitution. George Thomas (Mickey) Leland was a humanitarian and global anti-hunger activist.  Parren J. Mitchell was a vigorous advocate for minorities. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was a strong supporter of civil rights. Harold Washington was known for his urban leadership legislation and protecting voting rights. Andrew Young, Jr. sought to increase racial harmony.  

The notable African Americans profiled in this collection are but a few of many who have played significant roles in the history of Congress.  While some have served as elected officials, many more African Americans have been involved in the Senate and House in different capacities. From the construction of the Capitol building to working as professional staff, African Americans have been an integral part of the history of the institution.