One hundred forty-five years ago today, on February 25, 1870, Hiram Revels (1827-1901) was sworn in as a U.S. Senator from Mississippi, the very first black man to hold this position. This was during Reconstruction, that brief, decade-long experiment in interracial democracy which followed the Civil War. This experiment ended in 1876 when Rutherford B. Hayes became President of the United States in a back room deal because of disputed electoral votes in three southern states—Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina—and in Oregon. A special committee of Congressmen and 5 Supreme Court Justices awarded the presidency to the republican Hayes and in exchange, Hayes pulled all the troops out of the south, who were there to enforce Reconstruction legislation, and left the south to decide for itself how it would treat people of color. We are all familiar with the history that followed.
It has been 145 years since Hiram Revels was sworn in. It is now 2015, and there have been only nine African Americans who have ever held a U.S. Senate seat, counting Revels. 145 years later, the goals of Reconstruction are still a mirage.