At the end of the Civil War, after ratification of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, there was a relatively brief fifteen year period where voters elected and the Tennessee Legislature seated African-American legislators. The first was Sampson Keeble in 1873, and he was followed by a dozen more after him. These men were former slaves, businessmen, teachers, lawyers and farmers from Davidson, Tipton, Shelby, Fayette and other counties around the state. However, they struggled and sometimes lost against the forces opposing them both in the legislature and in their hometowns. Those forces used black codes, vote suppression, ballot rigging, threats and violence against them. In more than one case, the legislator fled the state for safety. In 1888, the last of the elected black legislators left office. One more was elected in 1896, reportedly "by the largest vote for any legislative candidate" from that county, but he was denied his seat by the Legislature. The Tennessee Legislature would remain an all-white body from 1888 until 1964.
First Black Statesmen | The Citizenship Project | NPT
The end of the Civil War, after ratification of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments.
Writer and Producer
Jackie Welch Schlicher
Cameron Walls/ Statesman
Henry O. Arnold/ Sen. Roderick Butler
Eddie Charlton/ Frederick Douglass
and S.A. McElwee
Rob Wilds/ Newspaper Editor