John Mercer Langston

John Mercer Langston
Posted on 02/23/2021
One of the most prominent African Americans in the United States before and during the Civil War, John Mercer Langston was as famous as his political nemesis, Frederick Douglass. One of the first African Americans to hold elective office in the United States (he became Brownhelm, Ohio, township clerk in 1855), Langston topped off his long political career by becoming the first black man to represent Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Langston received a B.A. in 1849 and an M.A. in theology in 1852. Langston wanted to become a lawyer, a profession only three black men in the nation had officially achieved nationwide in the early 1850s. After two law schools denied him admission, he studied under local abolitionists in Elyria, Ohio. On April 22, 1855, he became one of the first African Americans elected to public office in the United States when Brownhelm Township voted him clerk on the Liberty Party ticket. In 1856, he left Brownhelm for Oberlin and served on the town's board of education. 
During 1870, Langston assisted Republican Senator Charles Sumner from Massachusetts with drafting the civil rights bill that was enacted as the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The 43rd Congress of the United States passed the bill in February 1875 and it was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1875.
President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Langston as a member of the Board of Health of the District of Columbia.
In 1877 President Rutherford Hayes appointed Langston as U.S. Minister to Haiti;[16] he also served as chargé d'affaires to the Dominican Republic.
After his diplomatic service, in 1885 Langston returned to the US and Virginia. He was appointed by the state legislature as the first president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute, established as a historically black college (HBCU) and land grant college at Petersburg. (It is now Virginia State University.) There he also began to build a political base. After being declared the victor in a contested 1888 election, Langston was the first black person elected to Congress from Virginia, and he was the last for another century.

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