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Can Mike Espy Make History, Again?

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At the end of the Civil War in 1865, Mississippi was a majority-Black state.

Republicans, who were the liberals at the time, championed granting Black people the right to vote. The military commander of Mississippi in 1867 started to allow Black people to register to vote for delegates at the Reconstruction constitutional convention. That year, there were 60,167 Black people registered and only 46,436 white people.

Black people had enough electoral power to control the state.

The new Mississippi Legislature in 1870 was a quarter Black. As Mississippi sought readmission to the Union and representation in Congress in January of that year, the state had to fill its two vacant Senate seats (one of which had been vacated by Jefferson Davis, who would become president of the Confederacy).

The Black delegation insisted that one of the seats should go to a Black party member. You can insist when you have that much political power. The legislators agreed that they could have the seat with the shortest term remaining, and elected Hiram Revels, a well-educated Black pastor who was born free in North Carolina in 1827 and who formed regiments of Black men in Maryland during the war. (Senators were not popularly elected at the time.)

In February 1870, Mississippi was readmitted into the Union. On Feb. 3, the 15th Amendment was ratified, and just 22 days later Revels took his oath of office in the Senate. Civil rights activist Wendell Phillips called Revels “the 15th Amendment in flesh and blood.”

Revels became the first Black senator in American history. But soon, in 1874, Mississippi would also give America its second Black senator, Blanche K. Bruce, also elected by the Legislature.

Perhaps no state at the time held the promise of true Black electoral power more than Mississippi. According to the Mississippi Historical Society, “At least 226 Black Mississippians held public office during Reconstruction, compared to only 46 blacks in Arkansas and 20 in Tennessee.” That is why white racists moved so swiftly and brutally to crush that prospect.

As David C. Colby wrote in the journal Publius, the Democrats, who were the conservatives and racists of........

© The New York Times

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