History Lesson: First African-Americans elected to Congress were Republicans

Since 1870, 10 African-Americans have served in the U.S. Senate, four of them Republicans and six Democrats.

Updated: June 15, 2020 - 10:49pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The criticism about the Republican Party having just one black senator in South Carolina's Tim Scott has intensified with allegations that the GOP is using him to lead Capitol Hill police-reform efforts, which have focused on police brutality toward black Americans after George Floyd’s death.

However, the first African-Americans to serve in both chambers of the U.S. Congress were members of the Republican Party.

Hiram Rhodes Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, became the first African-American member of the Senate when he was seated in 1870, during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. Blanche Bruce, also a Mississippi Republican, was the second in 1875.

Rep. Joseph Rainey, a Republican from South Carolina, became the first African-American to serve in the House when he was selected by his party to complete the term of an incumbent who resigned in disgrace in 1870.

The Republican Party, at that time, represented emancipation for slaves while members of the Confederacy, which opposed the abolition of slavery in the South, were members of the Democratic Party.

Since 1870, 27 African-Americans elected to the House of Representatives have been registered Republicans, and 117 have been registered Democrats.

The party affiliation of African-Americans in the South shifted toward the Democratic Party over time due to many factors, including the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Civil Rights Act of 1968, both which were signed into law by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson.

On Thursday, Scott was asked on NBC's "Today Show" to respond to allegations that he's the GOP’s “token” and that he's being “used” to push the reform legislation.

“I shrug those comments and criticisms off," he responded. "But you’ve got to know, when you’re a black Republican, you’re like a unicorn. People are going to criticize you when you wake up, when you go to sleep, if you say you like apple pie and football, there’s a lot of critics for that, too. So God bless their souls.”

Right now, the Democratic Party has two African-Americans serving in the Senate: Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California.

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