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John Mercer Langston

John Mercer Langston (1829-1897)
John Mercer Langston (1829-1897)

Renowned lawyer, diplomat, educator, and politician.

Langston was born December 14, 1829, free in Louisa County, Virginia, where his father was a white planter and slaveholder and his mother was an emancipated slave. When both parents died in 1834, Langston received a large inheritance and became financially independent. He was raised by family friends in Ohio. In 1849 he received a B.A. in English, and in 1852, an M.A. in theology, from Oberlin College. He soon became involved in abolition and black rights activities. Unable to enroll in law school because of his race, Langston studied independently and passed the Ohio Bar in 1854. He assisted freedom seekers on their journeys North and organized antislavery societies. He became involved in local government in Oberlin, Ohio, where he practiced law. During the Civil War (1861-1865) Langston recruited for three African American regiments especially the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts and Fifth Ohio Regiments; member of the council of Oberlin 1865-1867; member of the city board of education in 1867 and 1868.

Langston campaigned for black suffrage, which was granted by Congress in 1867. He was appointed inspector general of the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned Lands in 1868-1869; traveling throughout the South to ensure that the rights of new freedmen were respected, moved to Washington, D.C., and practiced law.

Langston came to Howard University to organize its Law School, emphasizing racial and gender diversity. He was Law School dean from 1869 through 1876, elected vice president and then acting president of the university in 1872, until 1875. While at Howard,  Langston also assisted Republican Senator Charles Sumner from Massachusetts with drafting the civil rights bill that was enacted as the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The 43rd Congress of the United States passed the bill in February 1875 and it was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1875. He was appointed and commissioned by President Grant a member of the Board of Health of the District of Columbia in 1871; delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1876 and in 1877 appointed by President Hayes, Minister Resident and consul general to Haiti and as chargé d’affaires  to the Dominican Republic.

Langston in 1885, returned to Virginia, to became president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. In 1888, Langston was urged to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives by fellow Republicans, both black and white. Leaders of the biracial Readjuster Party, which had held political power in Virginia from 1879 to 1883, did not support his candidacy. He ran for the U.S. House of Representatives and won, but his victory was contested for 18 months, leaving him a term of only six months to serve (1890-1891) as the first African American elected to Congress from Virginia. In the next election he was defeated.

In 1890 Langston was named as a member of the board of trustees of St. Paul Normal and Industrial School, a historically black college, when it was incorporated by the Virginia General Assembly. In this period, he also wrote his autobiography, which he published in 1894.

From 1891- 1897, Langston practiced law in Washington, D.C., until his death on November 15, 1897, he is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Washington, DC. In his honor the Langston University and the town where it is located in Oklahoma carry his name.

Education Racism Wealth

Virginia Secession Convention of 1861

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Three-Fifths Compromise, May 25 to September 17, 1787 United States Constitutional Convention

Connecticut Compromise Proportional representation of the states in the House of Representatives, but required the Senate to be weighted equally among the states. Each state would have two representatives.

Compromise of 1790 Was done between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson with James Madison wherein Hamilton won the decision for the national government to take over and pay the state debts, and Jefferson and Madison obtained the national capital (District of Columbia) for the South. The compromise made possible the passage of the Residence and Funding Acts in July and August 1790

Toussaint Louverture  August/November 1791 – 1801 Freed and ruled the Island of  Santo Domingo/Haiti.

Fugitive Slave Act, February 12, 1793 was made part of the US Constitution, Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3, later superseded by the Thirteenth Amendment.

Louisiana Purchase, September 18, 1803

Missouri Compromise, March 3, 1820

Kansas–Nebraska Act, was passed in 1853, by the 33rd United States Congress and become law May 30, 1854

Compromise, Fugitive Slave Act, September 18,  1850

Education Racism Wealth

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Frederick Douglas

Papers at the Library of Congress

Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery in 1838 and became a leading abolitionist, as well as an orator, writer, editor, and public servant.

“What To the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

At the time of the delivery of this speech, Douglass had been living in Rochester, New York for several years editing a weekly abolitionist newspaper. He was invited to give a fourth of July speech by the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester. In the early 1850s, tensions over slavery were high across the county. The Compromise of 1850 had failed to resolve the controversy over the admission of new slaveholding states to the Union. The Fugitive Slave Act passed by Congress as part of this compromise was bitterly resented by the Northern states. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel about slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or Life among the Lowly had been published a few months before and unexpectedly became a national bestseller. Across the country, people were thinking and arguing about slavery, abolitionism, and the future of the nation. 

Frederick Douglas’s delivered on July 5, 1852 at Corinthian Hall to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York, read by actor Ossie Davis.

‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’ by Frederick Douglass

“What to the Slave is the Fourth July?” by Frederick Douglass is not only a brilliant work of oratory. It speaks to our every frustration spurred by the gap between the ideals of the United States and the reality we witness every day; between the Bill of Rights and our decaying civil liberties; between the USA’s international declarations of human rights and the ordered drone attacks backed by presidential “kill lists”; between the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and a nation that leads the world in jailing its own citizens; between our highest ideals and our darkest realities. Here’s hoping people take the time to read the entirety of Douglass’s brilliant speech; even though his were words that spoke directly to his moment in history, they still ring with an unsettling power. As Douglass says: “Had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”  —Dave Zirin


Morrill Act 1890 – Agricultural College Act

The second Morrill Act in 1890 was aimed to include the former Confederate states. This act required each state to show that race was not an admissions criterion, or else to designate a separate land-grant institution for persons of color.

Historically black universities were established under the Second Morrill Act of 1890, these consists of the following 19 universities: Alabama A&M, Alcorn State University, Central State University, Delaware State University, Florida A&M University, Fort Valley State University, Kentucky State University, Langston University, Lincoln University, North Carolina A&T State University, Prairie View A&M University, South Carolina State University, Southern University, Tennessee State University, Tuskegee University, University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Virginia State University and West Virginia State University. The land-grant institutions programs were intended to strengthen research, extension and teaching in the food and agricultural sciences by building the institutional capacities of the 1890 Institutions.

Though the 1890 Act granted cash instead of land, it granted colleges under that act the same legal standing as the 1862 Act colleges; hence the term “land-grant college” properly applies to both groups.

Later on, other colleges such as the University of the District of Columbia and the “1994 land-grant colleges” for Native Americans were also awarded cash by Congress in lieu of land to achieve “land-grant” status.


Morrill Act of 1862

Justin Smith Morrill, who served 43 years in Congress, was the son of a blacksmith who keenly felt his lack of formal education. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

From the 1800 – 1860 the federal government, through 162 violence-backed cessions, expropriated approximately 10.7 million acres of land from 245 tribal nations and divided it into roughly 80,000 parcels for redistribution. Proceeds from the land sale and redistribution was used to funded the Morrill Act of 1862.

Morrill is hardly a household name today, but his legacy is immense, felt in every single state. That’s because of a single bill he proposed, the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862. In the midst of some of the worst fighting of the Civil War, Congress passed a visionary piece of legislation that created more than 100 universities and reshaped the way Americans thought about higher education.

Morrill is hardly a household name today, but his legacy is immense, felt in every single state. That’s because of a single bill he proposed, the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862. In the midst of some of the worst fighting of the Civil War, Congress passed a visionary piece of legislation that created more than 100 universities and reshaped the way Americans thought about higher education.

Over the course of just a few days in July 1862, Lincoln signed a remarkable set of bills into law, including the Homestead Act, the Transcontinental Railroad Act, and Morrill’s Land-Grant College Act. The first two gave away approximately 200 million acres of government land to settlers and to the railroads needed to get them there. Morrill’s act would eventually offer another 17.4 million acres to the states, on the condition that they create public universities with particular expertise in agriculture, technology, and military training. Ideas about federal support for education had been floating around Washington since Jefferson, but this was the boldest act ever undertaken by far, dazzling in its scope and imagination.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Cornell University (no longer public), and a huge number of others. Land-grant schools have graduated more than 11 presidents — and tens of millions of Americans were born of the Morrill Act.

In the South, a “separate but equal” philosophy was permitted, that allowed segregated institutions to exist until the Civil Rights movement. At the same time, however, the fact that the South was included eased its reintegration into the country after the Civil War. Many of the most eminent African-American colleges, including Hampton and Tuskegee, also owe their origins to Morrill’s bill. Native American schools would also be added.