Saturday, October 18, 2014
John Mercer Langston (December 14, 1829 – November 15, 1897) was an American abolitionist, attorney, educator, activist and politician. He was the first dean of the law school at Howard University and helped create the department. He was the first president of what is now Virginia State University, a historically black college. In 1888 Langston was elected to the U.S. Congress as the first representative of color from Virginia. In the Jim Crow era of the later 19th century, Langston was one of only five African Americans elected to Congress from the South before the former Confederate states passed constitutions and electoral rules that essentially eliminated the black vote. After that, no African Americans would be elected from the South until 1973, after the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to enforce constitutional rights. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the gerrymandered district lines that southern Democratic State legislatures had drawn to keep blacks from voting. Together with his older brothers Gideon and Charles, John Langston became active in the abolitionist movement. He helped runaway slaves to escape to the North along the Ohio part of the Underground Railroad. In 1858 he and Charles partnered in leading the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. He was the younger brother of Charles Henry Langston, a fellow abolitionist; John was a great-uncle of the renowned poet Langston Hughes.Part 2 tomorrow.