After the end of the Civil War there were, for a time, various African-American members of congress elected from the Reconstruction-era South. But then came the “redeemer” governments using a combination of a terrorist violence and state coercion to institute an apartheid system and for a while black elected officials departed from the federal government. On January 21, 1901 George Henry White, the last of these Reconstruction-era members of congress, said:
This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress but let me say Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are on behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised and bleeding, but God-fearing people. . . . The only apology I have for the earnestness with which I have spoken is that I am pleading for the life, the liberty, the future happiness, and manhood suffrage for one-eighth of the entire population of the United States.
In a few hours, Barack Obama will be inaugurated as President of the United States. It’s clear that our problems are far from solved, but also clear that Rep. White’s faith in the promise of America was justified.