Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827 – 1901)

Written By Shane Williams


Hiram Revels was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina on September 27, 1827. In 1838 Revels began working as an apprentice to his brother in Lincolnton, North Carolina.  There he learned to be a barber.  His brother died in 1841, and Revels worked as the shop’s manager. After being denied an education in the South, Revels left North Carolina to obtain an education. He attended Beach Grove Quaker Seminary in Indiana as well as Knox College in Illinois. In 1845, Revels enrolled at Darke County Seminary in Ohio. And that year, Revels became an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and became principal of a school for blacks. He attended congregations and carried out religious work throughout the Midwest and the south.


In 1861, Revels supported Unionist efforts in Maryland.  He helped organize African American troops for the Union Army in Maryland as well as in Missouri in 1863. While in St. Louis he established a freedmen’s school and later served as a Union chaplain in Mississippi.  When the war ended, Revels joined the African-Methodist Episcopal Church in Natchez Mississippi as presiding elder. In 1868 the military governor appointed Revels as a city alderman. During his tenure, he won popular support from blacks and whites for his moderate positions.  In 1868, Revels soon ran a successful campaign for the Adams County seat in the Mississippi Senate.   He thereby became one of over thirty African Americans in Mississippi’s legislative bodies.


As a state senator, he advocated that the franchise be returned to former Confederates and for them to be able to hold public office.  In 1870, Revels was elected by the Mississippi state legislature elected Revels to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate.  Revels became the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress (February 25, 1870 – March 4, 1871).  While in office, Revels supported the desegregation of schools and railroads, rejected the legal separation of the races, and supported amnesty for ex-Confederates. Some of his positions generated criticism, in particular his view that forced integration was not necessary.


In 1871, the North Carolina native returned to Mississippi and served as president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, Mississippi’s first black college. In 1873 he was dismissed during a dispute with Governor Adelbert Ames. Subsequently, Revels served as Mississippi’s interim Secretary of State and became editor of the Southwestern Christian Advocate in 1876. That same year Revels was reappointed as head of Alcorn College due to his popularity with students and faculty.  Revels left his position at Alcorn in 1882 and moved to Holly Springs, Mississippi to teach.


Revels died of a stroke in Aberdeen, Mississippi in 1901.