This Day in History

Jan. 20, 1870: Hiram Rhodes Revels Elected to U.S. Senate During Reconstruction

Time Periods: Reconstruction Period: 1865 - 1876
Themes: African American, Reconstruction, Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights
Hiram Revels

Hiram Revels between 1860 and 1875. Source: Library of Congress

On Jan. 20, 1870, Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first African American to be elected to serve in the U.S. Senate.

In an extraordinary attempt to prevent Revels from assuming his elected position, his opponents argued that, despite having lived in the United States all his life, he could not be seated because the Senate required nine years of citizenship. They based their argument on the 1857 Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court.

The 14th Amendment making African Americans citizens, had only passed two years earlier. Revels was finally seated and represented Mississippi in 1870 and 1871, during the Reconstruction era of the United States.

As of 2021, Revels is one of only 11 African Americans ever to have served in the United States Senate. African American Senators has a list of others who have served.

Learn more in the Zinn Education Project national report, “Erasing the Black Freedom Struggle: How State Standards Fail to Teach the Truth About Reconstruction,” and find teaching resources on Reconstruction below.