First African American Senator
On February 25, 1870, visitors in the Senate galleries burst into applause as Mississippi senator-elect Hiram Revels of Mississippi entered the chamber to take his oath of office. Those present knew that they were witnessing an event of great historical significance. Revels was about to become the first African American to serve in the Senate.
Born 42 years earlier to free black parents in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Revels became an educator and minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. During the Civil War, he helped form regiments of African American soldiers and established schools for freed slaves. After the war, Revels moved to Mississippi, where he won election to the state senate. In recognition of his hard work and leadership skills, his legislative colleagues elected him to one of Mississippi's vacant U.S. Senate seats as that state prepared to rejoin the Union. Read the full Senate Story.
Former Slave Presides over Senate
On February 14, 1879, a Republican senator from Mississippi presided over the Senate. In this instance, the Senate's customary practice of rotating presiding officers during routine floor proceedings set an important milestone. The senator who temporarily assumed those duties had a personal background that no other senator, before or since, could claim—he had been born into slavery.
Blanche K. Bruce was born 38 years earlier near Farmville, Virginia. The youngest of 11 children, he worked in fields and factories from Virginia to Mississippi. Intelligent and ambitious, Bruce gained his earliest formal education from the tutor hired to teach his master's son. Read the full Senate Story.
Civil Rights Filibuster Ended
At 9:51 on the morning of June 10, 1964, Senator Robert C. Byrd completed an address that he had begun 14 hours and 13 minutes earlier. The subject was the pending Civil Rights Act of 1964, a measure that occupied the Senate for 57 working days, including six Saturdays. A day earlier, Democratic Whip Hubert Humphrey, the bill's manager, concluded he had the 67 votes required at that time to end the debate.
The Civil Rights Act provided protection of voting rights; banned discrimination in public facilities—including private businesses offering public services—such as lunch counters, hotels, and theaters; and established equal employment opportunity as the law of the land. Read the full Senate Story.