19th CenturyAfrican AmericanLegislators of Tennessee Produced at the Tennessee State Library and Archives Nashville, Tennessee 2005 ……….
African American Legislators in Tennessee in the 19th Century and Their Terms • SAMPSON W. KEEBLE . . . . . . Davidson County . . . . . . . 1873-1874 • JOHN W. BOYD . . . . . . . . . . . . .Tipton County . . . . . . . . . 1881-1884 (2 terms) • THOMAS F. CASSELS . . . . . . . Shelby County . . . . . . . . . 1881-1882 • ISAAC F. NORRIS . . . . . . . . . . .Shelby County . . . . . . . . . 1881-1882 • THOMAS A. SYKES . . . . . . . . . Davidson County . . . . . . .1881-1882 • LEON HOWARD . . . . . . . . . . . . Shelby County . . . . . . . . 1883-1884 • SAMUEL A. McELWEE . . . . . . Haywood County . . . . . . .1883-1888 (3 terms) • DAVID F. RIVERS . . . . . . . . . . Fayette County . . . . . . . . 1883-1884 • GREENE E. EVANS . . . . . . . . . Shelby County . . . . . . . . 1885-1886 • WILLIAM FIELDS . . . . . . . . . . .Shelby County . . . . . . . . .1885-1886 • WILLIAM C. HODGE . . . . . . . . Hamilton County . . . . . . .1885-1886 • MONROE W. GOODEN . . . . . . .Fayette County . . . . . . . . 1887-1888 • STYLES L. HUTCHINS . . . . . . .Hamilton County . . . . . . .1887-1888 • JESSE M. H. GRAHAM . . . . . . .Montgomery County . . . . 1897 (unseated) • No other African Americans were elected to the TN General Assembly until 1964. ………. …….. ……..
Samson W. Keeble SAMPSON W. KEEBLE ca. 1833 - 1887 A Republican barber, he was elected to represent Davidson County in the 38th Tennessee General Assembly, 1873-1874 He was the first African American elected to serve in the Tennessee legislature. …….. …….. Historical marker on Broadway at Second Avenue in downtown Nashville, Tennessee.
Sampson W. Keeble was a Nashville businessman, the owner of the Rock City Barber Shop, when he was elected to the 34th General Assembly. Born in 1833 in Rutherford County, Tennessee, he was the son of Sampson and Nancy Keeble. His parents were the slaves of H. P. Keeble, a prominent attorney. Keeble worked as a press-man for newspapers in Murfreesboro before the Civil War, then fought in the Confederate Army during most of the conflict. After it ended he established his barber shop in Nashville and served on the boards of directors of a bank and several other African American organizations. Sampson W. Keeble, p. 2
Sampson W. Keeble, p. 3 In November 1872, riding the coattails of Ulysses S. Grant’s Republican Presidential victory, Keeble was narrowly elected by Davidson County voters to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly. During his single term in the legislature Keeble introduced bills to protect wage earners, to amend Nashville’s charter in order to allow blacks to operate businesses downtown, and to appropriate funds for the Tennessee Manual Labor University. Not one of his bills received sufficient votes to pass into law. Keeble died in 1887 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Nashville.
John W. Boyd John W. Boyd ca. 1841 - ca. 1900 A Republican attorney, he was elected to represent Tipton County in the 42nd Tennessee General Assembly, 1881-1882 and re-elected to the 43rd Tennessee General Assembly, 1883-1884 ……. …….
John W. Boyd was born in Georgia about 1841, but his parents, Jackson and Martha Boyd, moved to Tipton County, TN, when he was a young boy. He and his wife, Martha Dogette of Mason, TN, were the parents of five children. An attorney during Reconstruction, Boyd was appointed to be a magistrate in the Ninth Civil District of Tipton County in 1878 & 1879. He was the census enumerator for Civil District #10 in 1880 and was elected the same year to the legislature. John W. Boyd, p. 2
John W. Boyd, p. 3 In the General Assembly John Boyd worked diligently with other legislators to overturn Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1875, the first of Tennessee’s Jim Crow laws, which permitted racial discrimination in public facilities. Boyd also attempted to repeal the restrictive contract labor law, which had the effect of keeping working blacks in bondage.
Chapter 130, Acts of Tennessee, 1875 The African American legislators worked harder to overturn this 1875 law than almost any other. An amended version of Boyd’s bill to repeal it was passed in 1883, but it did not effectively deal with the larger issue of racial discrimination. Excerpt: “Hereafter no keeper of any Hotel or public House, or carrier of passengers for hire, or conductor, driver, or employee of such carrier or keeper of any place of amusement or employee of such keeper shall be bound, or under any obligation, to entertain, carry, or admit any person whom he shall for any reason whatever choose not to entertain, carry, or admit to his house, Hotel, carriage, or means of Transportation or place of amusement, nor shall any right exist in favor of any such person so refused admission; but the right of such keepers...and their employees to control the access & admittance or exclusion of persons...shall be as complete as that of any private person over his private house, carriage, or private theatre or places of amusement for his family.”
This shows the cover and first page of John W. Boyd’s 1883 bill, HB 663, to prevent racial discrimination by railroad companies. The bill was amended to order separate accommodations for black and white passengers. Although Boyd objected to, and even voted against the amended bill, it passed into law by a vote of 56-19.
Thomas F. Cassels Thomas F. Cassels ca. 1849 –1906 A Republican attorney, he was elected to represent Shelby County in the 42nd Tennessee General Assembly, 1881-1882 ……. …….
Thomas F. Cassels was born in Kentucky about 1849 to free parents. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio, and then moved to Memphis to practice law. He was the first African American lawyer to plead before the Supreme Court of West Tennessee, and he was appointed assistant attorney general of Memphis in 1878. d The year after his term in the General Assembly ended, he represented activist Ida B. Wells in a discrimination lawsuit against a railroad company. In 1888 he served as a Republican Presidential elector. Cassels continued to work as an attorney until his death from tuberculosis in Memphis in 1906. Thomas F. Cassels, p. 2
Isaac F. Norris Isaac F. Norris ca. 1850 – ca. 1910 A grocer and businessman (coal & wood), he was elected as a Republican to represent Shelby County in the 42nd Tennessee General Assembly, 1881-1882. Convinced to run the following year on the Democratic ticket with Gen. William B. Bate, Norris was defeated, although Governor Bate and others on the ticket won easily. ……………
Although it is known that Norris accumulated a considerable amount of personal wealth in his lifetime, probably from his successful coal and wood business, little else is known about his life. He was one of Memphis’s elite African American group who saw several of their number elected to offices ranging from coal inspector to assistant attorney general during the 1870s and 1880s. During the election of 1882 the Democrats, who had persuaded Norris to join their ticket, referred to him in several news stories as a man “of fine practical sense and good judgment.” Isaac F. Norris, p. 2
On March 30, 1881, Rep. Isaac Norris introduced House Bill No. 682, “To prevent racial discrimination by railroad companies among their passengers who are charged and pay first class fare, and fixing penalty for same.” The bill passed its first and second readings, but it was apparently tabled in committee and did not come forward for a third and final reading. This was one of the earliest bills to make an effort to repeal Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1875.
Thomas A. Sykes Thomas A. Sykes ca. 1835 – ca. 1900 A former member of the North Carolina Legislature, a gauger at the Customs House, and owner of a Nashville furniture store, he was elected to represent Davidson County in the 42nd Tennessee General Assembly, 1881-1882. …………..
The 1870 census for North Carolina, which indicated that Sykes could not read or write, showed that he and his wife Martha had three young daughters and listed his occupation as “Representative.” During the 1870s and 1880s Sykes joined city councilman James C. Napier and others in a reform movement against Mayor Thomas A. Kercheval’s political machine. They made significant progress in moving African Americans into city jobs – as captain of a Negro fire company, boss of a street construction crew, bridge watchmen, and public works employees. Thomas A. Sykes, p. 2
Thomas A. Sykes, p. 3 Although a total of 12 black legislators served in the General Assembly in the 1880s, by the end of the decade there were none. Thomas Sykes was not re-elected after his term ended in 1882, and his career after that point serves as a poignant example of the effects of the Jim Crow laws on black Southerners. In 1885 Thomas Sykes had owned a thriving dry goods store, Sykes, Harris, and Company. However, by 1890, the first term in a decade in which there were no African Americans seated in the Tennessee legislature, Thomas Sykes was working as an elevator operator at the United States Customs House.
Leon Howard Leon Howard ca. 1850 – ca. 1910 A hotel porter and janitor, he was elected to represent Shelby County for one term as a Republican in the 43rd Tennessee General Assembly, 1883-1884. ……. …….
Very little is known about the life of Leon (or Leonard) Howard. When he unexpectedly defeated two other African American candidates, Norris and Price, who had been persuaded to run as Democrats in the 1882 election, Memphis’s newspapers, strongly Democratic (most had scarcely mentioned Howard during the campaign) patronizingly referred to him as “a very respectable representative of his race.” Howard introduced several bills in the legislature. One, requested by Governor Bate, would create the position of Assistant Super-intendent of Public Instruction to oversee the education of African American students. Another was a bill to end racial discrimination on public transportation and facilities. A third bill legislated punishment for white men who raped black women. All Howard’s bills were tabled or defeated. Leon Howard, p. 2
Rep. Leon Howard brought this bill, HB 493, on February 15, 1883. It was a response to Governor Bate’s request that the General Assembly approve the appointment of an Assistant State Superintendent of Public Instruction to oversee schools for African American students. The bill passed its first and second readings and was referred to the Committee on Education and Common Schools but did not pass out of committee. Howard made a second attempt to introduce this legislation in a special House session later in the same year, but the bill again failed.
Samuel Allen McElwee Samuel A. McElwee ca. 1857 – October 21, 1914 Scholar, teacher, storekeeper, and newspaperman, he was elected to represent Haywood County in the 43rd Tennessee General Assembly, 1883-1884, while still a student at Fisk University. f • Re-elected to the 44th (1885-1886) and 45th (1887-1888) General Assemblies; • Earned a law degree from Central Tennessee College in 1886, during his second term; • The first African American to serve three terms in the legislature; • The first African American nominated as Speaker of the House. ………………..
Samuel A. McElwee was born a slave in Madison County. After emancipation his family moved to a farm in neighboring Haywood County, where young McElwee attended Freedmen’s Bureau Schools part of the year. Having been taught to read by his former master’s children, he moved quickly through school, even though he had to devote much of the year to farm work. By 16 he was a teacher himself, and at 18 he attended Oberlin College for a year, paying his way by washing windows, waiting tables, and picking fruit. Supporting himself by teaching and peddling Bibles and patent medicines, he studied German, Latin, and mathematics with a Vanderbilt student whose strong recommendation earned him a Peabody scholarship to Fisk University. In 1882, while still a student, he was elected to the General Assembly from Haywood County. Although his wife died in 1885, leaving him with two small children, he nevertheless served two more terms in the state legislature, earning a law degree (1886) from Central Tennessee College during his second term. Samuel A. McElwee,p. 2
Samuel A. McElwee, p. 3 During his second legislative term, the 26-year-old McElwee was nominated by former U.S. Senator Roderick R. Butler to be Speaker of the House of Representatives, and he received 32 of the 93 votes cast. He was also the first African American Tennessean elected to a third legislative term. It was during this term that McElwee delivered a passionate oration in the House of Representatives pleading for stronger statutory sanctions against lynch mobs. His speech, which referred to three recent Tennessee lynchings, included these words: “Great God, when will this Nation treat the Negro as an American citizen? ... As a humble representative of the Negro race, and as a member of this body, I stand here to-day and wave the flag of truce between the races and demand a reformation in southern society by the passage of this bill.” Despite his eloquence, the bill was tabled by a vote of 41–36.
The cover and first page of Samuel A. McElwee’s bill, HB 526 (1883) to ensure more fair jury selection. The bill was tabled by the Judiciary Committee.
Samuel A. McElwee, p. 5 By 1888, as he campaigned for a fourth term, Samuel McElwee had gained a national reputation. He had spoken at the Tuskegee Institute and other educational institutions; he had chaired the Tennessee Republican Convention and had represented the state at the National Republican Convention in Chicago, where he would successfully persuade presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison to give greater attention to civil rights issues. At the same time, however, white separatists in Haywood County were conspiring to get rid of McElwee. As armed patrols terrorized African American neighborhoods and blocked the ballot boxes, fearful black voters stayed away from the polls. In spite of lawsuits brought later by federal election officials, those responsible for the fraud, who made no secret of the fact that they had deliberately miscounted votes, were never punished. That year’s General Assembly, which had no black members, quickly passed a series of laws intended to disfranchise African American voters. McElwee and his family fled Haywood County, barely escaping with their lives. For several years they lived in Nashville, where the former legislator established both a popular newspaper and a successful law practice. The family later moved north to Chicago. McElwee spent his final years there as the head of a prosperous law firm.
David F. Rivers David Foote Rivers July 18, 1859 – July 5, 1941 A Peabody Scholarship student at Roger Williams University at the time of his election, he represented Fayette County as a Republican in the 43rd Tennessee General Assembly, 1883-1884. Rivers was re-elected to the 44th General Assembly but never took his seat, having been driven out of Fayette County by racial violence. ……. ……. ……. David F. Rivers, about 1930
David Rivers was born in Montgomery, Alabama, to Edmonia Rivers, a free woman of color, and an unknown father. He was listed in the 1870 census as living in his grandfather’s Somerville, TN, household, along with two younger brothers and an assortment of relatives and boarders. Rivers did not learn to write until he was 19, when he first attended high school, probably in Fayette County. He was so successful in his studies that he was invited to attend Roger Williams University, Nashville, on a Peabody Scholarship. He was studying for a degree in theology there when he was elected to the Tennessee legislature. A challenge to his eligibility, based on his periodic absences from his home county to attend college, was unsuccessful. David F. Rivers, p. 2
David F. Rivers, p. 3 Although elected to the General Assembly for a second term in 1885-1886, Rivers never took his seat, having been driven out of Fayette County by what his son Francis referred to as “a large body of racially prejudiced whites.” However, having earned his degree in theology from Roger Williams University, he stayed on and taught there for two years, then preached at the Fifth Ward Baptist Church in Clarksville for some time. In 1893 he moved his family to Kansas City, Kansas, where he became pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist Church. In 1898 David F. Rivers was invited to Washington, D.C., to accept a post as pastor of the Berean Baptist Church, which he served for 46 years, until his death in 1941. His son Francis, equally distinguished, was a member of the NY General Assembly, Assistant District Attorney in New York County, and Justice of the City Court of New York.
Greene E. Evans Greene E. Evans Sept. 19, 1848 – Oct. 1, 1914 A well-educated businessman and former teacher, he was elected as a Republican to the 44th Tennessee General Assembly, 1885-1886. A member of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, he took part in their first U.S. concert tour in 1871-1872. ……. …….
Green E. Evans was born into slavery in Fayette County. He escaped from his master to become the servant of a Yankee officer in Alabama, moving to Indianapolis after the Civil War where he paid a man part of his $10-a-week salary to teach him to read. He hauled gravel and sod to pay his way through college, teaching during the summer in a school building he had built with his own hands. At twenty he entered Fisk University, where he was a member of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, who sang before President Grant in the White House. After graduating, Evans worked in the wholesale coal and wood business and as a mail agent and deputy wharf-master at Memphis. Active in Republican party politics, he received the party’s nomination to run for the General Assembly in 1884. Greene E. Evans, p. 2
The first Fisk Jubilee Singers. Greene Evans is seated second from left.
Greene E. Evans, p. 3 During his legislative term Evans introduced bills to repeal Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1875, to amend the public road law in order to allow for fair employment of African American workers, and, supporting a request by the governor, to provide for an Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction to oversee the education of black students. None of Evans’s bills passed into law. The 1900 Census shows him, now 51, living with his wife Anna in Chicago, Illinois. The entry lists his occupation as “coal dealer.” He died in Chicago on October 1, 1914, at the age of 64.
William A. Fields William A. Fields ca. 1852 – unknown A farmer and a school teacher, he was elected as a Republican to represent Shelby County in the 44th Tennessee General Assembly, 1885-1886. ………. …….
William A. Fields, p. 2 Very little is known about Fields’ early life. In the 1880 census, nearly five years before his election to the legislature, he was listed as a laborer, boarding with the Williams family on 2nd Street in Memphis. He and his wife Elizabeth were the parents of three children. He was a farmer and school teacher in the Fifth District of Shelby County at the time he was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly. There he introduced a number of bills opposing discrimination in public facilities, and supporting compulsory school attendance, fair labor contracts, and the licensure of insurance companies.
William C. Hodge William C. Hodge ca. 1846 – ca. 1900 A man who held many jobs, including railroad agent and jailer, he was elected to represent Hamilton County in the 44th Tennessee General Assembly, 1885-1886. He served as a member of the Chattanooga city council for many years. ……. …….
Born in North Carolina, Hodge held a number of jobs before he became a legislator: contractor, stone-cutter, house mover, night mail transfer agent at the railroad depot, alderman for the 4th Ward of Chattanooga, and city jailer. During his legislative term he introduced bills to safeguard employment and voting rights for all Tennesseans, and to overturn Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1875, which permitted discrimination on public transportation and in hotels and places of public amusement. All were tabled or rejected. Hodge was a legislative candidate in 1884, a year when Tennessee’s Republicans had declared themselves opposed to black candidates. He vowed it was time for white voters to get “educated up” and allow blacks to hold responsible positions. Black leaders reminded Chattanooga Republican office holders that the African American voters were keeping them in office (Hamilton County black voters outnumbered whites more than 3-1) and gently suggested that a little reciprocity would go a long way . . . Hodge subsequently became the county’s first black representative. William C. Hodge, p. 2
Monroe W. Gooden Monroe W. Gooden 10 May 1848 – 19 January 1915 The only African American Democrat in the Tennessee legislature in the 19th Century, he was elected to represent Fayette County in the 45th Tennessee General Assembly, 1887-1888 ………. …….
A farmer and cotton ginner near Somerville, Tennessee, Gooden and his wife Anne Baskeville were the parents of seven children. He was a deacon in the Baptist church and a member of the Masonic order. (Black Freemasons groups have existed in the United States since 1775, and the number of black lodges increased significantly after the Civil War.) Appointed to legislative committees on Agriculture and Federal Relations, Gooden introduced a bill to ensure the honest counting of ballots, out of the presence of the candidates, but it was tabled by the Judiciary Committee. One of the few African American Democrats in Tennessee during the 1880s, and the only one to serve a term in the legislature, Gooden was the second man to represent Fayette County, following Republican David F. Rivers, who served in the 43rd General Assembly. From 1830 to 1980 the population of Fayette County consisted of many more African Americans than whites (by 1865 the ratio was two to one), yet only these two black legislators were ever elected to represent the county. Monroe W. Gooden, p. 2
Styles L. Hutchins Styles Linton Hutchins 21 November 1852 – 7 September 1950 A Chattanooga attorney, he was elected to represent Hamilton County in the 45th Tennessee General Assembly, 1887-1888 Styles Hutchins, Monroe Gooden, and Samuel McElwee were the last African Americans to serve in the General Assembly until Representative A. W Willis, Jr., was elected in Shelby County in 1964. ……... …….
Styles Linton Hutchins was born in Lawrenceville, Georgia, in 1852. The son of a wealthy artist, he was one of the first black graduates of Atlanta University (1875). A year later he earned a law degree from the University of South Carolina Law School and was admitted to the South Carolina bar. He served as a Republican state judge, resigning with the Democrats’ return to power. Returning to Georgia to open a law practice, Hutchins over-came opposition from the legislature to become the first African American attorney admitted to the Georgia bar. In 1881 he opened a law practice in Chattanooga, also taking on the editorship of The Independent Age, a popular black newspaper. A valiant spokesman for civil rights, he ran for the legislature in 1886, winning by eight votes! Styles L. Hutchins, p. 2
Styles L. Hutchins, p. 3 Tireless in his role as legislator, Hutchins served on the Education and New Counties committees and was successful in passing laws to repeal poll taxes in Chattanooga and to prevent criminals from other states from testifying in Tennessee courts. His bill to limit the use of convict labor was not successful. After his legislative term, Hutchins returned to his law practice, held a patronage position in the revenue department of the U.S. Treasury, and became deeply involved in church work. He was known throughout Tennessee and Georgia as a fiery preacher who often used his sermons to denounce racism in the South.
Legislator and attorney Styles L. Hutchins introduced HB 447 on February 12, 1887, in an attempt to better regulate the work and confinement of convicts. Referred to the Committee on Penitentiary after its second reading, the bill was tabled in committee.
Styles L. Hutchins, p. 5 In 1906 Hutchins was involved in one of the most famous lynching cases in history. Hired to appeal the rape conviction of a black man named Ed Johnson, Hutchins and his law partner Noah W. Parden carried the appeal to the Supreme Court, who agreed to hear it and issued a stay of execution. That very night, a mob broke into the Hamilton County jail, dragged Johnson out and hanged him from a bridge. Hutchins and Parden immediately urged federal officials to file suit against the sheriff and the mob. In a precedent-setting case, the Supreme Court found Sheriff Shipp and others guilty. After serving only a brief sentence, however, Shipp returned home to a hero’s welcome, while Hutchins and Parden were forced to leave town for their own safety. In 1910 Hutchins was practicing law in Peoria, Illinois, but the 1920 Census lists him as the owner and operator of a barber shop in Illinois. He died in Mattoon, Illinois, in 1950 . . . at the age of 98!
Jesse M. H. Graham Jesse M. H. Graham 8 February 1860 – 25 July 1930 A Republican newspaper editor, elected to represent Montgomery County in the 50th Tennessee General Assembly, 1897-1898 A challenge of his eligibility to hold the office was successful, and the House of Representatives declared his seat vacant on 20 January 1897. …………… ……. This portrait of Jesse Graham appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal on November 15, 1896
Jesse M. H. Graham attended public schools in Montgomery and Davidson counties. In 1881 he won a Peabody Scholarship to attend Fisk University, where he took courses in English and education. After teaching school in Kentucky for a time, he worked as a postal clerk in Louisville, Kentucky, and Clarksville, Tennessee. In 1895 he was named editor of the Clarksville Enterprise, an African American newspaper. In 1896 he became the first black legislator elected in ten years, but an opponent filed a protest regarding Graham’s eligibility to hold the seat because of a period of absence from his home county. He was provisionally seated on Jan. 4, 1897, while the Committee on Elections debated the issue. When the committee declared both Graham and his opponent ineligible, the General Assembly passed a resolution declaring the seat vacant. Jesse M. H. Graham, p. 2
During the first World War the U.S. Army commissioned more than 1,200 African American officers. The only training camp set up exclusively for black officers was in Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Jesse Graham was one of the 638 officers who graduated from officers training in that program. Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army on October 15, 1917, Graham was assigned to the 317th Engineers. Honorably discharged at war’s end, he returned to Tennessee. Making his home once again in Clarksville, Graham served as an officer of St. Peter’s African Methodist Episcopal Church there and helped to found American Legion Post No. 143. d Before WWI he was a clerk in the U.S. Bureau of Audit and spent some time working in the Philippines. He later took a position with the Federal Government in Washington, D.C., where he was residing at the time of the 1930 Census. Jesse M. H. Graham, p. 3