John Mercer Langston (1829-1897) American politician. Born on Virginia plantation, son of the master; became lawyer; held wide range of political and educational positions, from city council member to dean of Howard University’s law school. Eventually became first African American elected to public office in United States, as member of U.S. House of Representatives. Active in civil rights organizations, such as the National Equal Rights League and Negro National Labor Union.
John Mercer Langston was the first black man to become a lawyer in Ohio when he passed the Bar in 1854. When he was elected to the post of Town Clerk for Brownhelm, Ohio in 1855 Langston became one of the first African Americans ever elected to public office in America. John Mercer Langston was also the great-uncle of Langston Hughes, famed poet of the Harlem Renaissance.
In the Jim Crow era of the later nineteenth century, Langston was one of only five African Americans elected to Congress from the South before the former Confederate states passed constitutions and electoral rules that essentially eliminated the black vote. After that, no African Americans would be elected from the South until 1973, after the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to enforce constitutional rights. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the gerrymandered district lines that southern Democratic State legislatures had drawn to keep blacks from voting.
A nation may lose its liberties and be a century in finding it out. Where is the American liberty? … In its far-reaching and broad sweep, slavery has stricken down the freedom of us all. – John Mercer Langston