Today, 143 years ago, an African-American man addressed the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time. John Willis Menard, born in 1838 in Kaskaskia, Illinois, was an abolitionist, author, and journalist in addition to being the first black man elected to congress. He attended Iberia College in Ohio, publishing several widely-read works thereafter, including An Address to the Free Colored People of Illinois (1860), and The Radical Standard, a civil rights advocacy newspaper.
He served as a clerk in the Census office, and worked with the magazine he founded, National American magazine, until his death in 1893. Politico has the full story:
On this day in 1869, John Willis Menard became the first African-American to address the U.S. House of Representatives. Menard was also the first member of his race to be elected to Congress. In his speech to the lawmakers, he made an unsuccessful plea to be seated in light of the decisive support — 64 percent — he had received from the voters in his New Orleans district.
Menard, a Republican, had apparently won a contest to complete the term of Rep. James Mann, who had died in office. However, his opponent, Caleb Hunt, challenged the results. The Committee on Elections refused to seat either candidate, leaving the seat vacant for the remainder of the 40th Congress.
Toward the beginning of his 1,410-word speech, Menard said: “I wish it to be well understood, before I go further that in the disposition of this case, I do not expect, nor do I ask, that there shall be any favor shown me on account of my race, or the former condition of that race.”
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