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19 th Century African American Legislators of Tennessee. Produced at the Tennessee State Library and Archives Nashville, Tennessee 37243 2010 edition ………. African American Legislators in Tennessee in the 19 th Century and Their Elected Terms.

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19 th Century African American Legislators of Tennessee

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19 th century african american legislators of tennessee

19th CenturyAfrican AmericanLegislators of Tennessee

Produced at the Tennessee State Library and Archives

Nashville, Tennessee 37243

2010 edition


african american legislators in tennessee in the 19 th century and their elected terms
African American Legislators in Tennessee in the 19th Century and Their Elected 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 . . . . . . . . 1883-1886*
  • GREENE E. EVANS . . . . . . . . . Shelby County . . . . . . . . 1885-1886
  • WILLIAM FIELD . . . . . . . . . . . .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)

* Rivers served 1883-1884 ; both Rivers & McElwee were prevented by white supremacists from serving a later term to which they had been elected.

No other African Americans were elected to the TN General Assembly until 1964.



sampson 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.



Bust of Sampson Keeble in Tennessee State Capitol by sculptor Roy W. Butler, 2010.

sampson w keeble p 2
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 TN, he was the son of Sampson and Nancy Keeble. His parents were the slaves of H. P. Keeble, an influential Murfreesboro attorney.

Keeble worked as a press-man for various newspapers in Murfreesboro before the Civil War, then fought in the Confederate Army during the conflict. After the war he established his Nashville barber shop 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
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, S. W. Keeble introduced bills protecting wage earners, amending Nashville’s city charter to allow African Americans to own and operate businesses downtown, and appropriating funds for the Tennessee Manual Labor University. Not one of his bills received sufficient votes to pass into law.

Keeble, who died in 1887, is buried with his daughter and son-in-law in Nashville’s Greenwood Cemetery.

42 nd general assembly 1881 82
42nd General Assembly, 1881-82

The 4 African American legislators are at far left.

john w boyd
John W. Boyd

John W. Boyd

ca. 1850 – March 10, 1932

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 p 2
John W. Boyd’s parents, Philip & Sophia Fields Boyd, were born in Virginia and moved to Tennessee with their slave-owners. John married Martha Doggett of Mason TN in 1879. His brother Armistead served with Co. C, 88th US Colored Infantry.

An attorney during Reconstruction, Boyd was a magistrate in the Ninth Civil District of Tipton County until 1900. Named a census enumerator for Civil District #10 in 1880, he was elected to the state legislature the same year, serving 2 terms.

John W. Boyd, p. 2
john w boyd p 3
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
Chapter 130, Acts of Tennessee, 1875

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

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 p 2
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. Probably the first African American to practice law in Memphis, he was also the first to plead before the Supreme Court of West Tennessee. He was appointed Assistant Attorney General of Memphis in 1878.

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

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.


isaac f norris p 2
Although Isaac Norris is said to have accumulated a considerable amount of personal wealth in his lifetime, probably from a 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, one of the earliest of the “Jim Crow Laws.”

thomas a sykes
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.


thomas a sykes p 2
The 1870 North Carolina census, which erroneously indicated that Sykes could not read or write, showed that he and his wife Martha had three daughters before moving to Tennessee, and listed his NC occupation as “Representative.”

During the 1870s & 1880s Sykes joined city councilman James C. Napier and others in

a reform movement against

Mayor Thomas Kercheval’s political machine. The group made significant progress in moving African Americans into city jobs – as bridge watchmen, public works employees, and laborers; a few blacks even obtained leadership positions, serving as bosses of road construction crews or captains of African American fire companies.

Thomas A. Sykes, p. 2
thomas a sykes p 3
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 time 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 where he had once held a management position.

leon howard
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.



No photograph available

leon howard p 2
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 Allen McElwee

Samuel A. McElwee

June 26, 1858 – 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.


  • 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; AND
  • The first African American nominated as Speaker of the House.


samuel a mcelwee p 2
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 progressed 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 & 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 in college, 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
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, receiving 32 of the 93 votes cast. McElwee was also the first African American Tennessean elected to a third legislative term.

During that third term he delivered a celebrated oration calling for stronger statutory sanctions against lynch mobs. After reminding members of three recent Tennessee lynchings, he exclaimed: “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
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 successful law practice and a popular newspaper. 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 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 f rivers p 2
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
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. He served that congregation for 43 years, until his death in 1941. His son Francis, equally distinguished, was a member of the New York General Assembly, Assistant District Attorney in New York County, and Justice of the City Court of New York.

44 th general assembly 1885 86
44th General Assembly, 1885-86

The four African American legislators are at lower right.

greene e evans
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.



greene e evans p 2
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, then moved to Indianapolis after the Civil War. There he paid a tutor part of his $10-a-week salary to teach him to read. He hauled sod and gravel to pay his way through college, teaching during the summer months in a schoolhouse he built with his own hands.

At twenty he entered Fisk University, where he sang bass with the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, performing before President Grant in the White House. After graduation, 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
Greene E. Evans, p. 3

During his single legislative term Evans introduced bills to repeal Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1875, to amend the public road law in order to permit 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 showed him, at the age of 51, living with his wife Anna in Chicago, Illinois. His occupation was listed as “coal dealer.” He died in Chicago on October 1, 1914, at the age of 64.

william a feild
William A. Feild

William A. Feild

ca. 1852 – unknown

A farmer and school teacher, he was elected as a Republican to represent Shelby County

in the 44th Tennessee General Assembly,



His surname has been spelled Feild, Field, and Fields. A prominent slave-owning family in West Tennessee spelled their own surname Feild, but many of their slaves changed the spelling after emancipation.


william a feild p 2
William A. Feild, p. 2

Very little is known about Feild’s early life. He may have been related to an earlier state legislator, John Boyd of Tipton County. He and his wife Elizabeth were the parents of six children. He was a school teacher in the Fifth District of Shelby County (now part of Memphis) at the time he was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly. There he introduced a number of bills -- supporting compulsory school attendance, opposing racial discrimination in public facilities, and urging fair and truthful labor contracts.

william c hodge
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 several years.



william c hodge p 2
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 in public transportation, hotels, and places of public amusement. All his bills were tabled or rejected.

Hodge was a legislative candidate in 1884, a year when Tennessee’s Republicans declared themselves opposed to black candidates. He announced it was time for white voters to get “educated up” and allow blacks to hold responsible positions. Black leaders reminded Chattanooga’s Republican office holders that African American votes were keeping them in office (Hamilton County black voters out-numbered whites more than 3-1!), suggesting that a little reciprocity would go a long way . . . . Hodge subsequently became the county’s first black representative.

William C. Hodge, p. 2
45 th general assembly 1887 88
45th General Assembly, 1887-88

The three African American legislators are at lower right.

monroe w gooden
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



monroe w gooden p 2
A farmer and cotton ginner near Somerville, Tennessee, Gooden and his wife Anne Baskerville 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 U.S. since 1775; the number of black lodges increased significantly after the Civil War.)

After the Civil War Gooden, who eventually became quite wealthy , owned the very plantation on which he had been a slave.

Appointed to the Agriculture and Federal Relations committees, Gooden introduced a bill to ensure the honest counting of ballots, but it failed.

One of the few black 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, after Republican David F. Rivers. From 1830 to 1980 the Fayette County population of Fayette County consisted of many more blacks than whites (by 1865 the ratio was 2-1), yet only two black legislators have ever been elected to represent the county.

Monroe W. Gooden, p. 2
styles l hutchins
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 l hutchins p 2
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
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
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 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, however, 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 of contempt of court. After serving a brief sentence, Shipp returned home to a hero’s welcome, while Hutchins and Parden had to leave Tennessee for their own safety. In 1910 Hutchins was practicing law in Peoria, Illinois; the 1920 Census lists him as the owner and operator of a barber shop. He died in Mattoon, Illinois, in 1950 . . . at the age of 98!

jesse m h graham
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 p 2
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 to serve, the General Assembly passed a resolution declaring the seat vacant.

Jesse M. H. Graham, p. 2
jesse m h graham p 3
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 officer 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.

Once again making his home 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.

Before WWI he had been a clerk in the U.S. Bureau of Audit and had spent some time working in the Philippines. He later took a position with the U.S. Federal Government in Washington, D.C., where he was residing at the time of the 1930 Census.

Jesse M. H. Graham, p. 3

Sampson W. Keeble’s monument in Greenwood Cemetery, Nashville.

Tennessee Historical Commission marker on Lower Broadway, Nashville.

produced at the tennessee state library and archives
Produced at the Tennessee State Library and Archives

byKathy B. Lauder, Archival Technical Services,

with the generous assistance of

  • Dr. Tommie Brown, State Representative, District 28
  • Riley Darnell, Tennessee Secretary of State
  • Irene Griffey, Certified Genealogist
  • Dr. Robert E. Hunt, Department of History, Middle Tennessee State University
  • Judicial Commissioner/Historian John Marshall, Shelby County
  • Karina McDaniel, State Photographer, Preservation Services, TSLA
  • Vincent McGrath, Legislative History Coordinator, TSLA
  • Charles Nelson, Director of Legislative Services, TSLA
  • C. Michael Norton, Attorney at Law
  • Tim Pulley, Director, Brown Harvey Genealogical Room, Montgomery County Library
  • Carol Roberts, Director of Preservation Services, TSLA
  • Mike Slate, Publisher, Nashville Historical Newsletter
  • D. Ralph Sowell, Archival Technical Services, TSLA
  • Jeanne Sugg, Tennessee State Librarian and Archivist