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Hiram Revels Essay, Research Paper

Hiram RevelsHiram Rhoades Revels was born a free man of African American and Indian descent in a slave state and became the first African American member of Congress. In the process, Revels ministered to the spiritual needs and expanded opportunities for education for the African American community. He began his life in North Carolina. Hiram Revels was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1822, but an exact birthplace has not been identified. He was born of mixed African and Croatan Indian heritage to free parents. On March 8, 1838 Revels was apprenticed to his brother, Elias B. Revels, as a barber in Lincolnton, North Carolina. Although Hiram Revels’s apprenticeship was to last until his 21st birthday in 1843, his brother died in 1841 leaving the Hiram to manage the barber shop (Litvin). Revels apparently left the barber shop to further his education. In 1844 he was a student at the Quaker school in Liberty, Indiana. He also attended school in Ohio and was a student of Knox College. Revels was ordained as a minister by the African Methodist Church and traveled extensively ministering to African American congregations in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Kansas. He eventually settled in Baltimore where he became principal of a school for African Americans as well as pastor of a local church. His ministerial and educational work would expand during the Civil War (Revels). With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Hiram Revels turned his resources toward support for the Union cause in Maryland, a border state with divided loyalties. Revels aided in the organization of two regiments of African American troops from Maryland. Having moved to St. Louis to organize a school for African Americans, he recruited African American men for service in a Missouri regiment in 1863. His recruiting ability and ministerial training equipped Revels for active service as a Union chaplain serving with a Mississippi regiment of free blacks. At one point during his military service, Revels was the provost marshal of Vicksburg, the militarily important Mississippi River town and scene of a bloody and prolonged Union siege.

At the conclusion of the war, Revels settled in Natchez, Mississippi and joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He continued his pastoral duties and founded new churches. In 1868, Revels was elected alderman. Struggling to keep his political and pastoral duties separate and to avoid racial conflict, Revels earned the respect of both whites and African Americans. His success in managing these forces led to his election as a state senator from Adams County, Mississippi. In 1870 Revels was elected as the first African American member of the United States Senate. Ironically, Revels was elected to fill the position vacated by Jefferson Davis who left the Senate to become President of the Confederacy. Revels took his seat in the Senate on February 25, 1870 and served through March 4, 1871, the remainder of Davis’s vacated term (Litvin). Returning to Mississippi in 1871, Revels was named president of Alcorn College, the state’s first college for African American students. He was dismissed from the Alcorn presidency in 1874 by Governor Ames but returned to the position two years later. Revels retired from Alcorn in 1882. Aside from his duties at Alcorn College, Revels served as Secretary of State Ad Interim for Mississippi in 1873. Revels actively participated in the 1875 political campaign to oust the “carpet-bag” government of Mississippi. He defended his actions in a letter to President Ulysses Grant which was published in the Daily Times of Jackson, Mississippi. The next year he became editor of the Southwestern Christian Advocate. While attending to these public activities, Revels actively continued his religious work (Revels). It was while attending a church conference in Aberdeen, Mississippi that Hiram Rhoades Revels died on January 16, 1901. Hiram Revels faced the dangers of racial conflict in the South of the Reconstruction era in a manner that won the respect of both whites and blacks. His life was dedicated to improving the spiritual and educational needs of the African American community in many states. If Hiram Revels hadn t been born history would of been different. He made allot of things possible for African Americans.


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