north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     A story, perhaps apocryphal, has it that when Jefferson Davis left the U.S. Congress, fellow Senator Simon Cameron told him, “I believe, in the name of God, that a Negro some day will come and occupy your seat.” Cameron’s putative predictive powers were on-target, for in 1870 Hiram Rhodes Revels, a native of North Carolina, became the first black member of Congress, taking Davis’s seat representing Mississippi. Revels, a Republican, was seated on February 25, 1870, and served until March 4, 1871. John Rainey of South Carolina became the first black House member on December 1, 1870, and served until 1879.

     Hiram R. Revels was born on September 27, 1822, by all accounts, in Fayetteville. The precise location or even the section of town is not known. Census and deed records are of no help in fixing his birthplace. Born a free black, Revels by March 9, 1838, had moved to Lincolnton. On that date he was apprenticed to his brother Elias B. Revels to learn the trade of barbering. The apprenticeship was to end on his twenty-first birthday, but E. B. Revels died in June 1841. In July 1845 H. R. Revels placed an ad in the Lincoln Courier for his barbershop located on the courthouse square.

     After leaving the Senate in 1871, Hiram R. Revels served as acting Mississippi secretary of state in 1873 and, from 1876 to 1882, as president of Alcorn Agricultural College. An ordained African Methodist Episcopal minister, Revels preached and lectured widely. While attending a church conference in Aberdeen, Mississippi, on January 16, 1901, he died suddenly. He is buried in Holly Springs, Mississippi.


References:
Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers (1993)
Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1744-1971
Billy Libby, “Sen. Hiram Revels of Miss. Takes His Seat,” Journal of Mississippi History (November 1975): 359-380
Joseph A. Borome, “The Autobiography of Hiram Rhodes Revels,” Midwest Journal (1952-53): 79-92
Julius Thompson, “Hiram R. Revels, 1827-1901: A Reappraisal,” Journal of Negro History (Summer 1994): 297-303
James W. Silver, “North Carolina in Mississippi History,” North Carolina Historical Review (January 1945): 43-57
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