[Congressional Record Volume 140, Number 16 (Wednesday, February 23, 1994)]
[House]
[Page H]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]


[Congressional Record: February 23, 1994]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

 
                          BLACK HISTORY MONTH

  The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mrs. Clayton). Pursuant to the Speaker's 
announced policy of February 11, 1994, the gentleman from Louisiana 
[Mr. Jefferson] is recognized for 60 minutes.
  Mr. JEFFERSON. Madam Speaker, I rise today to acknowledge the 125th 
anniversary of the first speech delivered in the well of the U.S. House 
of Representatives by a duly elected African-American Member of 
Congress, John Willis Menard and to thank.
  On February 27, 1869, Mr. Menard took the floor of the House to 
defend his right to represent the constituents of the Second District 
of the State of Louisiana, the same congressional district that I now 
represent, who elected Mr. Menard with 5,107 votes to 2,833 votes for 
his opponent.
  For the 40 Members of today's Congressional Black Caucus and all 
African-Americans, this anniversary on Sunday should be one of joy and 
celebration, for it should represent the very first empowerment of 
African-Americans in our Government.
  Unfortunately, this anniversary symbolizes the one-step forward, two-
steps backward struggle African-Americans have faced in order to 
participate fully in the practice of representative democracy. You see, 
though soundly defeated by voters in the Second District, Mr. Menard's 
opponent, Caleb S. Hunt, contested the election before the House's 
Committee on Elections.
  Despite presentation of Mr. Menard's official Certification of 
Election, the Committee on Elections rejected both Mr. Menard's 
legitimate claim to the seat from Louisiana's Second District and Mr. 
Hunt's dubious claim to election.
  The decision came on a motion by Congressman James A. Garfield ``that 
it was too early to admit a Negro to the U.S. Congress, and that the 
seat be declared vacant, and that the salary be divided equally between 
the two contestants.''
  Given an opportunity to present his case, Mr. Menard began:

       Mr. Speaker, I appear here more to acknowledge this high 
     privilege than to make an argument before this House. It was 
     certainly not my intention at first to take any part in this 
     case at all; but as I have been sent here by the votes of 
     nearly 9,000 electors, I would feel myself recreant to the 
     duty imposed upon me if I did not defend their rights on this 
     floor.
       I wish it to be well understood, before I go any further, 
     that in the disposition of this case I do not expect, nor do 
     I ask, that there shall be any favor shown me on account of 
     my race, or the former condition of that race. I wish the 
     case to be decided on its own merits and nothing else. . . .

  Mr. Speaker, history will decide whether or not the 40th Congress 
showed Mr. Menard any special favor or fairness. Regardless, Mr. 
Menard's election and his subsequent speech on the floor of this 
hallowed hall embody the spirit of empowerment that still drives the 
African-American community today.
  While it may have been deemed ``too soon to admit a Negro to the U.S. 
Congress'' in 1869, African-Americans took the second step toward full 
empowerment 1 year later in 1870 when Hiram Revels of Mississippi 
became the first black to serve in Congress as a Member of the U.S. 
Senate and James Rainey of South Carolina became the first black to 
serve in the House of Representatives.
  Empowerment in Congress continued through 1901 when the departure of 
George H. White of North Carolina marked the first time in 31 years 
that African-Americans were not represented. In his final speech, 
Congressman White remarked prophetically:

       This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the Negroes' temporary 
     farewell to the American Congress. But let me say, phoenix 
     like, he will rise up someday and come again. These parting 
     words are in behalf of an outraged, heartbroken, bruised and 
     bleeding people, but God fearing people, faithful, 
     industrious, loyal people . . . rising people full of 
     potential.

  It took 27 years, but the election of Oscar Stanton de Priest in 1928 
by voters in Illinois' First District rekindled the empowerment of 
African-Americans in American government in much the same way Mr. 
Menard's election sparked the empowerment of African-Americans with his 
election to the U.S. Congress from the Second District in Louisiana in 
1868, as the first African-American to be elected to Congress, and his 
historic speech 125 years ago.
  I thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank John Willis Menard.

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