Revels, Hiram Rhodes

Revels, Hiram Rhodes

(1827–1901) Protestant minister, U.S. senator, educator; born in Fayetteville, N.C. Born to free parents (of Indian as well as African-American descent), he attended Knox College (Galesburg, Ill.). Ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1845), he served in various churches and capacities in several states before accepting a pastorate in Baltimore in 1860. Early in the Civil War he helped to recruit two black regiments in Maryland, then served as the chaplain in such a regiment in Mississippi, where he organized black churches. In 1863 he established a school for freedom in St. Louis. After serving in different churches, in 1866 he settled in Natchez, Miss., where he soon gained elective offices. On January 20, 1870, he was chosen by a vote of the Mississippi legislature to fill the unexpired term of Jefferson Davis in the U.S. Senate, and although many in the Senate came up with legal objections, he was finally allowed to take his seat on February 25. In a little over a year in the Senate, he took an active role in trying to advance the rights of African-Americans, while at the same time calling for moderation in treatment of former Confederates. He was not chosen to succeed himself after March 1871 but he became the first president of Alcorn University, the first land-grant college in the U.S.A. for black students. Feuds with more radical Republicans led to his temporary step-down from his post at Alcorn (1874–76) and his siding with the Democrats in the election of 1875, but he returned as president of Alcorn until 1882. In his later years he was also pastor of a church at Holly Springs, Miss., and taught at Shaw (later Rust) College.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.