Not all African Americans in this country were born into slavery prior to Emancipation; such was the case for Hiram Revels and his older brother, Elias. They were both “born free” in Fayetteville, N.C., the sons of a free father of mixed blood.

Not all African Americans in this country were born into slavery prior to Emancipation; such was the case for Hiram Revels and his older brother, Elias. They were both “born free” in Fayetteville, N.C., the sons of a free father of mixed blood.

Their beautiful white mother had a Scottish heritage to boot.

Hiram came into this world back in 1822 and from the beginning he had quite a thirst for knowledge, however back in those days there weren’t too many opportunities for young black children to go to school, free or not, so young Hiram was tutored at home by a black woman for his early education. She apparently did a pretty fair job with the child, because Hiram not only went down in history as the first African American in the United States Senate, but also created some pretty strong ties right here in our own community.

Brother Elias grew up to become a barber and encouraged Hiram to follow in his foot steps, and so at age 16, he was apprenticed to his brother’s barber shop.

However, Hiram’s educational thirst continued and he enrolled in a Quaker Seminary in Indiana. He also attended Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and studied at a black seminary in Ohio. All of his hard work finally paid off and he was ordained a minister in 1845 at age 23. Ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the young Hiram initially became a minister in Baltimore, Md., where he also set up a private school for black children.

Hiram Rhodes Revels preached widely across Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Missouri and Kansas during the following decade.

 “At times, I met with a great deal of opposition,” Hiram recalled. “I was imprisoned in Missouri in 1854 for preaching the gospel to Negroes, though I was never subjected to violence.”

During the Civil War as a chaplin, Hiram assisted in recruiting and raising two black regiments for the Union army in Maryland and Missouri, and took part at the battle of Vicksburg in Mississippi.

At the close of the war, Revels returned to his ministry and came to Independence, where he founded the St. Paul AME Church, and from here to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and then down to New Orleans briefly before being permanently assigned in Natchez, Miss. There he found himself in the Deep South during the reconstruction period following the war.

Encouraged by his wife and five daughters, Hiram founded a school for black children in Natchez and then jumped head first into local politics when he was elected alderman.

The following year he was elected to represent Adams County in the Mississippi State Senate, then Secretary of State. He became the first African American to serve in the United States Senate in 1870.

Since he preceded any African American in the House, he was the first African American in the U.S. Congress as well.

Hiram Rhodes Revels was listed as one of the 100 Greatest African Americans and as of 2009, Revels is one of only six African Americans to have served in the U.S. Senate. He also served as national director of the AME and president of Alcorn College.

In Independence, the AME Church that he founded originally met in schools or other rented space until they could afford to build their first church in 1879 at a cost of $2,000, located at 107 N. Noland Road, next door to today’s police station.

The old original building has since been demolished and that site is a parking lot today for the present AME structure, which was dedicated in 1965 and is located on the corner at 200 E. Lexington Ave.

Reference: A Rich Heritage, written by William Curtis and produced by Theron E. Ragland.

In cooperation with The Examiner, Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior or school groups.

These informative and entertaining programs have been well received over the past number of years across Jackson, Cass and Clay counties.