Running on the ticket of Ohio’s Liberty Party, John Mercer Langston became the first person of African ancestry to hold an elective office in the United States. This was 1855.Langston had been admitted to the Ohio bar in 1854,and he would become Howard University’s first law dean in 1868.
John Menard of Louisiana was the first person of African ancestry elected to Congress. It was 1868 and before the United States had ratified the Fifteenth Amendment. He pled his own case before Congress, which would rule that it was not the time for a Black person to become a member of Congress. By 1901, Black politics had come to a screeching halt due to white terrorism, a Jim Crow Supreme Court and a lack of federal protection. The era of Blacks in Congress and in statehouses was over. In the interim, P.B.S. Pinchback had become governor of Louisiana in 1872.
George White represented North Carolina in Congress. His congressional district included Princeville, which was the first Black town to receive a municipal charter. He bowed out in 1901 and Congress became all-white once again. There would be a racial hiatus of 28 years before Oscar DePriest would win a ticket to Congress.
Hiram Revels became the first Black person admitted to Congress when the Mississippi legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1870. Blanche K. Bruce, who represented Mississippi, would become the second Black U.S. senator. Like white challengers to Presdent-elect Barack Hussein Obama’s successful presidential campaign, white supremacists also unsuccessfully challenged Revels’ citizenship.
Since Reconstruction, three Blacks have sat in the U.S. Senate for a period of only 22 years. No pair of Blacks has ever sat in the U.S. Senate. Since 1870, Blacks have had a single voice in the U.S. Senate for only 29 years. Similarly, Blacks have suffered 109 years of political disbarment in the U.S. Senate. Although Latinos do not have as many registered voters as Blacks, they currently have three members in the U.S. Senate. This group includes Ken Salazar of Colorado, Mel Martinez of Florida and Robert Mendez of New Jersey. Gov. Jon Corzine appointed Mendez in January 2006, and he would win a full term 10 months later.
Before the Civil War, and in Seneca, N.Y., in 1848, Frederick Douglass would lead the struggle for female suffrage. In 1870,the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified for Black men. Despite his efforts, women would not win the right to vote until 1920.Today, there are 15 white women in the U.S.Senate.
If Blacks had been given five states in the South, as demanded by the Nation of Islam, there would be at least 10 Black U.S. senators. Asians have Hawaii and they have two U.S. senators. Asians would not enjoy the right to vote in the United States until after World War II. Asians had to face the Chinese Exclusion Acts in the 19th century and Japanese internment during World War II.
I am guided by the teachings of my revered ancestors. In “My Black Position Paper,” Cong. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. said, “The Black masses must demand and refuse to accept nothing less than that proportionate share of political jobs and appointments which are equal to their proportion in the electorate.” This means that there must be a minimum of 12 U.S. senators of African ancestry.
Govs. David Paterson and Rod Blagojevich have a constitutional duty to ensure that all major ethnic groups enjoy political representation in the U.S. Senate. Democracy should require political representation for a historically oppressed minority group. Their decisions to select persons to replace Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama are unreviewable.
The appointment of two Black persons for the U.S. Senate is also in the national interest. The U.S. Justice Department filed amicus curiae briefs in Shelley v. Kraemer and Brown v. the Board of Education, to respectively, end racial covenants and Jim Crow in education. Those briefs made it clear that racial discrimination undermined national security.
The U.S. Senate is overwhelmingly white.In the next 40 years, whites will be a minority in this country. Minorities will become the majorities. For the past 400 years, Blacks have suffered legal terrorism, political disenfranchisement and economic exploitation. Generally, whites will lack the education, inclination or the experience to represent descendants of enslaved Africans. Caroline Kennedy, for example, may be a very decent person, but there is nothing in her background to suggest that she could ameliorate the political disenfranchisement of Black people. In “The Miseducation of the Negro,” Dr. Carter G. Woodson said that the best white institutions fail to teach white students about Negro problems.
To be sure, no white person has ever lived the Black experience. This country has severely damaged people of African ancestry politically over the centuries. For every wrong, there must be a right. A governor must be just before he is generous.
Governor Paterson must follow the lead of Gov. Corzine. New Jersey had never elected a Latino to the U.S. Senate. Governor Corzine used his executive power to give Latinos a meaningful voice in the U.S. Senate. His appointment was affirmative action for Latinos. Affirmative action will have the same salutary effects as it has had in education. It is not enough to argue that the next president of the United States is a person of African ancestry. This is a red herring. Obama will head the executive branch of government. The U.S. Senate enjoys powers that exceed and are different from those powers in the House of Representatives.
Good government means that all ethnic groups have meaningful voices in every branch of government. The exclusion of Blacks and Indians from any branch of government is constitutionally suspect. Blacks and Indians Albany have suffered the worst experiences at the hands of the United States government.
Sunday December 21, 2008–The final UAM forum for 2008 will occur at 10:30 a.m. at the Elks Plaza, 1068 Harriet Tubman Avenue (Fulton Street) near Classon Avenue in Brooklyn. It will be a pre-Kwanzaa celebration with food and refreshments. There will be a live showing of “Like It Is” at noon on a big-screen television with our guests. The guests on “Like It Is” this Sunday will be Alton Maddox and Rev. Herbert Oliver. They will review 2008 and make predictions in 2009 for the Obama presidency.
Take the “C” train to Franklin Avenue. Wednesday, January 7, 2009–UAM’s next weekly forum at the Elks Plaza, 1068 Harriet Tubman Avenue (Fulton Street) near Classon Avenue in Brooklyn at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free. See: www.reinstatealtonmaddox.net for “Obama Misfired on Education” and Political Prisoners in the U.S.: Dr. Matula Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal.”