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African Americans in Senate History

Jesse Nichols

The role of African Americans in Senate and Capitol history is not limited to those who served in elected office. One of the most lasting contributions of African Americans to Senate history, for example, came with the Capitol’s construction. Historical evidence shows that many of the laborers and artisans who built the Capitol were African American, both free and enslaved. Philip Reid’s mechanical expertise helped place the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome in 1863. Among the first African Americans to be hired in professional clerical positions were Robert Ogle and Jesse Nichols. As a Senate staff member, Christine McCreary challenged the de facto segregation of Capitol Hill in the 1950s and 1960s. Alfonso Lenhardt, who served as sergeant at arms from 2001 to 2003, was the first African American to hold one of the top two administrative positions in the Senate. On July 7, 2003, the Senate appointed Dr. Barry C. Black as Senate chaplain, another first for African Americans in the Senate.


Explore Senate Art

Blanche Kelso Bruce

Featured here: Blanche Kelso Bruce by Simmie Lee Knox

Explore the Senate's collection of paintings, sculpture, graphic art, and decorative art, which comprises over 2,500 objects that represent the history of the institution, the Capitol, and the nation. Included on this website are interactive exhibits and informative essays that add context to these works.

Landmark Legislation

During the 19th and 20th centuries Congress passed landmark legislation to abolish slavery, to extend civil and legal protections to former slaves and their descendants, to end segregation in public and private facilities, and to protect voting rights for newly emancipated people. Read about landmark civil rights legislation by selecting the links below.

The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act

The Civil War and Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution

Civil Rights Act of 1875

Civil Rights Act of 1964


In the News!

State of the Union Address


Minorities in the Senate

Black History Month

States in the Senate

Image: Screenshot of the States in the Senate homepage.

Each state has its own unique place in Senate history. Explore the States in the Senate website to learn about your state.

Civil War Sesquicentennial

View online features that explore the Senate's wartime experience.

A&H Related Links


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