John Mercer Langston (1829 – 1897)

Mr. Langston became the first black person to be elected to any public office when in 1855 at the age of 26 he became the Brownhelm Township clerk in Lorain County, Ohio. Prior to his election John Langston graduated from Oberlin College and earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in theology, but was turned down by every law school because of his race. He then studied law under Republican congressman Philemon Bliss, an Elyria attorney, and passed the Ohio bar exam, making him the first black attorney prior to the start of the American Civil War.

Langston went on to become President of Howard University, was appointed by President Grant as minister-resident to Haiti, and later became president of Virginia Normal College. In 1889 he was elected a representative to the U.S. Congress from Virginia’s 4th District and was the only black congressman for another century. He was so highly regarded by his fellow congressmen that he was twice suggested as a candidate for vice-president. He died in Washington D.C. at the age of 68. The town of Langston, Okla., home of Langston University, is named after him.

Editor’s Comments: Barack Obama became the first black person to become the President of the United States, but John Langston had already made political history when he was elected to important government offices here in the United States of America.