In Jackson Jr. Story, Politico’s Isenstadt ‘Forgets’ There Were Five Black Congressmen Before Chicagoan Oscar De Priest
In his coverage of black Chicagoland Democrats’ fears that the seat that was held by just-resigned Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. until last week, Politico’s Alex Isenstadt initially wrote that Chicago is home of “the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, and the first black member of Congress, Oscar De Priest.” Evidence of this original wording is seen at this Google search on the quoted sentence.
Apparently, someone helped Isenstadt get a grip on history — but really, who didn’t know that there had to be at least one African-American congressmen during the 19th century after the Civil War? The sentence now says that De Priest was “the first black member of Congress in modern congressional history.” What a pathetic non-admission of an obvious error. Let’s run down, courtesy of a congressional web site, how seriously wrong Isenstadt really was:
Henry Plummer Cheatham, Representative, 1889–1893, Republican from North Carolina — A lifelong proponent of education and of the recognition of African-American achievements in the post-emancipation years, Henry Cheatham won back the “Black Second” district in eastern North Carolina, recapturing the seat formerly held by Representatives John Hyman and James O’Hara.
John Mercer Langston, Representative, 1890–1891, Republican from Virginia — One of the most prominent African Americans in the United States before and during the Civil War, John Mercer Langston was as famous as his political nemesis, Frederick Douglass. One of the first African Americans to hold elective office in the United States (he became Brownhelm, Ohio, township clerk in 1855), Langston topped off his long political career by becoming the first black man to represent Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Thomas Ezekiel Miller, Representative, 1890–1891, Republican from South Carolina — A seasoned local and state politician, Thomas Miller brought his extensive experience fighting for freedmen’s rights in post–Civil War South Carolina to his abbreviated term in the 51st Congress (1889–1891). With little time to legislate, Miller asserted himself as a staunch supporter of the Federal Elections Bill, chiding congressional colleagues about the deterioration of civil rights in the South. “I shall not be muffled here,” Miller declared on the House Floor.
George Washington Murray; Representative, 1893–1895, Republican from South Carolina; Representative, 1896–1897, Republican from South Carolina — A former slave, Representative George Murray was the only black Member in the 53rd and 54th Congresses (1893–1897). Murray was highly regarded by his peers because of his position. An 1893 newspaper called him “the most intellectual negro in the [Sumter] county.” However, Murray’s detractors doubted his eloquence, accusing him of hiring a ghostwriter for his floor speeches. Employing his formidable oratorical skills, Murray fought the disfranchisement laws that beset the South in the early 1890s. He was a political pragmatist who worked for his constituents while placating the hostile political base necessary for his election campaigns. Unable to defeat the overwhelming tide of white supremacy, either nationally or at home, Murray left the House, marking the end of black representation in South Carolina for nearly 100 years.
George Henry White, Representative, 1897–1901, Republican from North Carolina — George H. White’s bold legislative proposals combating disfranchisement and mob violence in the South distinguished him from his more reserved contemporaries. The lone African-American Representative at the dawn of the 20th century, White spoke candidly on the House Floor, confronting Booker T. Washington’s call to work within the segregated system. The onslaught of white supremacy in his home state assured White that to campaign for a third term would be fruitless, and he departed the chamber on March 3, 1901.
Note that all five gentlemen were Republicans.
Maybe that’s why Alex Isenstadt “forgot.”
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.