Langston, John Mercer

Langston, John Mercer

(1829–97) educator, public official; born in Louisa County, Va. The son of a plantation owner and his emancipated slave, he was educated at Oberlin College (B.A. 1849), where he read theology and law, passing the Ohio bar exams in 1854. He was elected township clerk in 1855, the first African-American elected to public office. During the Civil War, he worked to recruit black troops and after the war he was inspector general of the Freedmen's Bureau (1868). He then moved to the newly-founded Howard University, where he served as dean and vice-president, and was one of the founders of the law school (1869–77). He served in the U.S. diplomatic service (1887–85), before successfully standing in the House of Representatives from Virginia (Rep., 1889–91). He had to resort to the courts to have his election upheld, and his bid for reelection was unsuccessful. He published his autobiography, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capital (1894).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.