(Senate - February 29, 1996)

Text available as:

Formatting necessary for an accurate reading of this text may be shown by tags (e.g., <DELETED> or <BOLD>) or may be missing from this TXT display. For complete and accurate display of this text, see the PDF.

[Pages S1471-S1474]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                         UNITED STATES SENATORS

  Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate 
proceed to the immediate consideration of Senate Resolution 229, 
submitted earlier today by Senators Dole and Daschle.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report.
  The assistant legislative clerk read as follows:

       A resolution (S. Res. 229) commemorating Black History 
     Month and contributions of African-American U.S. Senators.

  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection to the immediate 
consideration of the resolution?
  There being no objection, the Senate proceeded to consider the 
  Ms. MOSELEY-BRAUN. Mr. President, it is indeed the most profound 
honor and privilege to stand before the United States Senate today to 
commemorate the 126th anniversary of the election of the very first 
African-American ever to serve in these great Senate Chambers.
  U.S. Senator Hiram Revels.
  We are all of us indebted to this man, Mr. President--and to Senator 
Bruce and Senator Brooks who followed him. These leaders carried forth 
the dignity of black Americans, as they worked vigilantly inside these 
Chambers to open the opportunity of America to all Americans.

  The past is always prolog. The history of the contributions of 
African-Americans is as much a part of the mosaic of America as any 
other. Indeed, the dream of black Americans resonates so powerfully, 
because it is an optimistic dream. Because it is about inclusion. 
Because it is about expanding opportunity. Because it breaks down the 
barriers that divide us.
  The Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, the twin 
cornerstones of our Nation, eloquently set forth the kind of nation we 
all want. Think about the preamble of our Constitution. It states:

       We the people of the United States, in order to form a more 
     perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic 
     tranquility, provide 

[[Page S1472]]
     for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the 
     blessings of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity, do 
     ordain and establish the Constitution for the United States 
     of America.

  With that elegant pronouncement, 39 white men laid down the tenants 
that would organize the Government for this, the greatest nation in the 
world. In so doing, they created a democracy which guides us still.
  However, as Dr. Martin Luther King so wisely said, ``The Declaration 
of Independence is really a declaration of intent.'' In reality, the 
Constitution was more a statement of principles than a set of rules 
carved in stone. It took almost two centuries of struggle and testing 
to fulfill the promise of so lofty a pronouncement.
  For one thing, the new Americans learned right away that ``We the 
people'' was a pretty exclusive group. It certainly did not include 
women. Women were not enfranchised into the body politic until the 19th 
amendment to the Constitution was adopted in 1920. Poor people were 
shut out, too. Most States required ownership of property for 
participation in elections. Nor were young people recognized until the 
26th amendment was ratified in 1971, allowing 18-year-olds to vote. And 
certainly not the large population of slaves, who counted as three-
fifths of a person, for purposes of the census, taxes, and 

  As Congresswoman Barbara Jordan was wont to note: ``When the 
Constitution was completed in September 1787, I was not included in 
that `We, the people.' ''
  All of this despite the noble proclamation:

       We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are 
     created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with 
     certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, 
     liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these 
     rights, governments are instituted by men, deriving their 
     just powers from the consent of the governed.

  After the first Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was 
asked: ``What have you wrought?'' He answered: ``A Republic, if you can 
keep it.''
  If we can keep it. Indeed it is a grand vision that has inspired 
generations of African-Americans to steward the Constitution so that 
this statement of intent shall be realized and turned into a reality 
that benefits all Americans. By contrast, a history which deliberately 
erases the sagas of blacks and women is no history at all--it is 
fiction--as flat and incomplete as a history that would leave out 
George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or any of these 39 men who founded 
our great country.
  Worse, it has the ultimate mischief of misdirecting future activity 
that grows forth from that fraud. For the past is indeed prolog. A 
distorted past without texture and honesty misleads us all.
  And so Congresswoman Barbara Jordan said, too, when she was seated in 
the House Chambers--

       Today I am an inquisitor. I believe hyperbole would not 
     overstate the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in 
     the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am 
     not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the 
     diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the 

  I say to you today, Mr. President, Congresswoman Jordan was honoring 
a tradition of paramount importance to our African-American ancestors. 
A tradition started by the man we honor today. Senator Hiram Revels, 
the very first African-American to serve in the Senate, representing 
the great State of Mississippi during Reconstruction.

  Senator Revels was a courageous man for his time. How he grew from 
his ordinary roots to dedicate his life to public service, and 
contribute in such an extraordinary way to public policy in the 
Reconstruction era should show us all that every one of us really can 
make a difference.
  Consider who he was. Born the son of free parents, Senator Revels 
started out in the ministry, preaching in the Midwestern and border 
States, and assisting fugitives from slavery. When the Civil War broke 
out, Revels was a school principal and a church pastor in Baltimore. He 
helped raise two regiments of African-American troops in Maryland, then 
moved on to St. Louis, MO, where he established a school for freed men.
  The following year, in 1864, Revels joined the Union Army and served 
as chaplain assigned to an Army regiment of African-Americans stationed 
in Mississippi. You heard me right. He served in a black regiment 
defending the Union in Mississippi.
  Such courage as this is the foundation of our African-American 
  By 1870, Revels had been elected to the Mississippi State Senate. But 
destiny tapped his shoulder when the Republican-dominated legislature 
elected Revels to the U.S. Senate, in anticipation of the State's 
readmission to representation in Congress.
  It was in 1870, you will recall, and the 15th amendment granting 
citizens the right to vote regardless of race or previous condition of 
servitude, was finally passed. 1870. That is almost 100 years after the 
Constitution declared this country to exist for the protections of all 
  His victory was not without a fight. Sent to Washington, Senator 
Revels' credentials were immediately challenged. On the basis of the 
Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court in 1857, which judged that 
persons of African-American descent were not U.S. citizens, he was 
accused of failing to satisfy the citizenship requirement to hold 
elected office in the Senate.

  The debate over Senator Revels seat became increasingly bitter. For 2 
days, his opponents offered up a caustic mix of racial epithets, 
inflammatory charges, and specious arguments in a futile effort to 
prevent the seating of the Nation's first black Senator.
  As a result, this minister and school principal, this educator and 
spiritual leader, embarked on his career as a U.S. Senator defending 
the rights of other blacks to hold public office. His first debate was 
against an amendment to the Georgia readmission bill that prevented 
blacks from holding State office in Georgia, and from representing 
Georgia in either House of Congress. Prefacing his remarks, and I 
quote: ``With feelings which perhaps never before entered into the 
experience of any member of this body,'' Senator Revels declared that 
black citizens, ``ask but the rights which are theirs by God's 
universal law.'' And Senator Revels reminded his audience of the 
contributions that African-American troops had made to the war effort. 
Despite Senator Revels efforts, the Georgia readmission bill was 
  During 14 months of service in the Senate, Senator Revels spoke out 
against legislation to segregate public schools in the District of 
Columbia, and was instrumental in helping to integrate the work force 
at the Washington Navy Yard.
  Although Senator Revels decided not to run for re-election, his short 
stay in the Senate paved the way for other African-American Senators to 

  In fact, he opened the door of opportunity for the election of 
Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce in 1875, who became the first African-
American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate.
  Though born a slave, Senator Bruce still believed in the guiding 
truth of the Constitution, and he dedicated his life to working for the 
inclusion of all under the arm of its protections. In an effort to 
support African-Americans seeking higher office, Senator Bruce 
championed the cause of Pinckney Pinchback, a Louisiana Republican who 
might have been this Nation's third black Senator but for a challenge 
to his seat. In his first speech in this Chamber, Senator Bruce 
vigorously defended Pinchback, and the Republican-dominated legislature 
which had elected him to the Senate. But it was to no avail.
  During his 6-year term in the Senate, Senator Bruce served as 
chairman of a select committee charged with investigating the 
Freedman's Savings and Trust Co.--a federally chartered institution 
whose collapse threatened to impoverish thousands of black depositors. 
Through his efforts, investors were able to recover more than half of 
their deposits.
  Senator Bruce made great contributions in the fight for inclusion 
during his one term in the Senate. However, despite the tremendous 
strides achieved during the Reconstruction era, in the late 1870's, 
ominous tactics of intimidation unbecoming of a great democracy were 
used to exclude African-Americans from full participation in the voting 
process. Lives were threatened, and lives were lost, when Afican-
Americans dared to exercise their right to vote.
  Both of these gentlemen clung to the promise of a republic, guided by 
a love 

[[Page S1473]]
of liberty. And they did this, Mr. President, despite their direct 
exposure to a society that condoned slavery--and espoused the 
degradation of humanity--which characterized the popular will of their 
times. They did this because they hoped. Because they were determined 
that their hopes would not be in vain.
  Even so, it was not for another 86 years--that's almost a century, 
Mr. President, a full century--until America elected another African-
American to the U.S. Senate.
  Not until the great surge of the civil rights era was the third 
African-American Senator elected; 1967 was the year, and the American 
politics had matured. For one thing, a change in the Constitution 
allowed for direct elections by the people, rather than elections or 
appointments by State legislatures.

  Thus, it was a significant victory, Mr. President, when the people of 
Massachusetts, on their own volition, on the basis of their own vision 
and wisdom and depth of comprehension of America's political values 
elected Senator Edward Brooks to the U.S. Senate.
  Senator Brooks was only the first African-American ever to win a 
Senate seat by direct election. With his victory, the American 
electorate showed that it had grown in its maturity. The people had a 
deeper connection to the meaning of ``We the People.'' They appreciated 
the value of inclusion for all peoples. They understood the great 
possibilities of allowing diversity to thrive in our Nation, and so 
they opened up the ranks of participation in leadership.
  Senator Brooks served two terms until 1979. During his 12 years of 
service, Senator Brooks supported a number of measures aimed at healing 
the Nation's racial and economic divisions, including tax reform, fair 
housing legislation, the extension of the Voting Rights Act and Federal 
aid to education.
  Each of these three gentlemen set a fine example of leadership that 
all Americans can be proud of. Each championed the cause of justice, 
democracy, and liberty for all. And perhaps most notably, each one of 
them avowed that one day, one day the promise of America would be a 
reality for all Americans.
   Mr. President, I stand on the floor of this most powerful 
legislative body, and I am only the fourth American of African descent 
to serve in the U.S. Senate. The fourth ever. And the only one serving 
  But I want to tell you that I share the hopes of my ancestors, too. 
When the Senate convened for the first time, we met in the old Senate 
Chamber, and I searched out the desk of my predecessor from Illinois 
who would actually have been seated in that Chamber.
  It was the seat of Stephen Douglas. You may recall that Abraham 
Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas in the late 1850's, and the famous 
Lincoln-Douglas debate sharpened the focus of the clouds of war on the 
horizon. Lincoln, not at that point an abolitionist, argued the 
question of the Douglas legislation, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which 
would make the extension of slavery into the territories a matter to be 
decided by referendum. Lincoln thought slavery was best confined where 
it already existed, and made the moral argument against human 
enslavement as the basis for his opposition to its extension. Douglas 
defended his bill. Douglas won the election to the Senate. When I sat 
in that seat for the first time, I made sure I was well positioned in 

  How very different our times might have been--had the outcomes of 
their conflict been different. Through the crucible of a great civil 
war, our Nation redefined itself, to admit to citizenship those persons 
of color who were previously held as chattel. In his commitment to the 
Union, Lincoln held out a hope of freedom to those who, themselves, had 
never stopped hoping.
  In his second inaugural address, Lincoln said with no small amount of 
anguish, ``With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness 
in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to 
finish the work we are in, to bind up the nations wounds, to care for 
him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, 
to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among 
ourselves and with all nations.''
  ``Let us strive on to finish the work we are in * * *''
  Lincoln was referring to the war between the States. But to African-
Americans, the struggle against racism and for human dignity was to 
continue. Again, their contributions in that continuing struggle compel 
us today. Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois and 
Booker T. Washington, Paul Lawrence Dunbar and James Weldon Johnson, 
Mary McCloud Bethane and S. Phillip Randolph, George Washington Carver 
and Jackie Robinson, Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell, Langston 
Hughes, Ralph Bunche. Each name conjures a story of heroism, of 
patriotism, of hope.
  We are today the product of their sacrifice, their labor, and their 
commitment to community. It is in the essential message of their 
contributions that we find guidance for out times. These people were 
great because they reached outside of themselves to define and serve 
the community as they hoped it would be. They saw, and enhanced the 
possibilities for America. They were protectors of the Constitution, 
cherishing and defending and promoting the promise of freedom. And in 
their many endeavors, they sought to guarantee that the value of 
liberty and the sanctity of human dignity would never be lost in this 
great Nation. They would not drop the flag because they believe in the 
Republic. They were stewards of the Constitution and the values it so 
eloquently established as the bedrock foundation of this country.
  Dr. Kind once said, ``The arc of the moral universe is long, but it 
bends toward justice.'' African-Americans can take real pride in the 
fact that by our struggles for freedom, all people are made free. By 
our commitment and sacrifice, the weight of moral authority has helped 
bend that arc. By helping convert that Declaration of Intent into a 
firm reality, by insisting on a definition of community that is 
inclusive of all people and nurturing of human potential, we build the 
foundation for a 21st century that will move us beyond the painful 
struggles and lost talent which so sadly characterized our past.

  There is a term in mathematics known as Vector addition. Simply 
stated it holds that you add forces working together and subtract 
forces working against each other. This formula is as true for society 
as it is for mathematics. If we can continue on the path to human 
dignity, and in the direction of the Declaration and Constitution 
together, we will reach the goals set out there. We will create the 
America that our ancestors prayed and died for.
  We are not there yet.
  Today, a lot of Americans want to believe that we have arrived. 
People now want to move away from the concept of inclusion, saying we 
need go no further. But remember that I am still the only African-
American sitting in the Senate today, and I am the very first African-
American woman to win election to the Senate in the history of the 
United States. Of the 1,827 Senators in the history of the United 
States, only 4 have been African-American. The numbers alone tell you 
where we are and how far we have to go.
  I look forward to the day in American history when we will no longer 
have reason to take note how many women and African-Americans are in 
the Senate. I want to see that great day when ``We the People'' will 
include all Americans, that great day when skin color and ethnicity 
will not matter. Gender will not matter. The great day when the 
diversity that makes America so special in the history of the world 
will finally achieve this perfect union that our Forefathers 
  We are, after all, in this together. Black and white, southern and 
northern, male and female, all these distinctions should point us to 
the real truth--that we are all created equal, and we are all one 
community. In our multi-color, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional 
diversity, we are all one people. And in that diversity lies our 
strength. When whites can take pride in the contributions of black 
Americans, and blacks can take pride in the history of white Americans, 
we can all be proud of our common heritage and common humanity.
  And from that diversity we can stir the competitive pot, giving full 
play to the complete range of talent that 100 percent of our people--
not just some of our people--can bring to bear on the challenges of our 

[[Page S1474]]

  When my own great State of Illinois rached beyond race and gender to 
embrace my candidacy, and carry me to an election triumph, they gave 
all of America a wonderful victory. It was first and foremost a victory 
for ``We the People,'' a resounding advancement and maturing of the 
American character, that it should promote leadership on the basis of 
individual contributions and vision, not on the basis of race and 
  Yes indeed, the people of Illinois can be proud of the patriotism and 
love of country, which prompted this ultimate fulfillment of our 
Founding Fathers and mothers visions for what we could become. Like the 
people of Massachusetts who elected Senator Brooks before me, the 
victory was a mark of progress that all leadership and all 
participation. An act of inclusion that recognizes the worthiness of 
all facets of American life, and the need for all of America to benefit 
from that experience and expertise.
  African-American history month is a celebration for all of us. It is 
not jsut for black children deprived of role models and heroes of their 
heritage. It is not just for white children, who are fed media images 
of African-Americans as drug dealers and gang bangers. It is a 
celebration for all of us, and a time for reflection on the kind of 
America we want to leave as our legacy. But most of all, it provides us 
with an opportunity for truth telling. Because there are tens of 
thousands of ordinary black Americans who have made significant 
contributions in the arts, literature, politics, science, business and 
community service. Most importantly of all, black history teaches that 
we all have a role to play in making this country great. We all had 
played a role in shaping the past, and we all have a role to play in 
shaping the future. All of us--African, Irish, Italian, Heinz 57 
variety, we are all Americans and we will all individually and 
collectively make the decision today which will determine tomorrow.
  That is why this salute to Hirim Revels, Blanche Bruce, and Ed Brooks 
is a salute to America and a celebration of the history of the 
contribution of Americans of African descent.
  Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the 
resolution be agreed to; that the preamble be agreed to; that the 
motion to reconsider be laid upon the table; and that any statements 
relating to the resolution appear at the appropriate place in the 
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  So the resolution (S. Res. 229) was agreed to.
  The preamble was agreed to.
  The resolution, with its preamble, is as follows:

                              S. Res. 229

       Whereas, Black History Month in 1996 is a fitting occasion 
     to direct public attention to the many significant 
     contributions which have been made by African-American 
     citizens in government service to the people of the United 
     States of America; and
       Whereas, 125 years ago on February 25, 1870, Republican 
     Hiram Rhodes Revels of Natchez, Mississippi was seated as the 
     first Black citizen to serve in the United States Senate; and
       Whereas, the service of Senator Revels, an ordained 
     minister of the Christian Gospel, was distinguished by 
     conscientious support for desegregated public education, 
     reconciliation, equal political opportunity and veterans' 
     benefits and by opposition to discrimination in government 
     employment and political corruption; and
       Whereas, Blanche Kelso Bruce of Bolivar County, 
     Mississippi, whose term commenced on March 5, 1875, became 
     the first Black citizen to serve a full term in the U.S. 
     Senate and distinguished himself by supporting equality in 
     Western state land grants, desegregation in the U.S. Army, 
     electoral fairness, equitable treatment of Native Americans 
     and by opposing fraud and incompetence in governmental 
     affairs; and
       Whereas, Edward William Brooke of Newton, Massachusetts on 
     January 3, 1967 became the first Black citizen to be elected 
     directly by the people to serve in the U.S. Senate (and then 
     was re-elected), distinguished himself by supporting American 
     history awareness, racial reconciliation initiatives, 
     strengthened foreign relations, stronger higher education, 
     improved veterans' benefits, affordable housing and the 
     performing arts; and
       Whereas, Carol Moseley-Braun of Chicago, Illinois on 
     January 3, 1993 became the first Black woman and the first 
     Black member of the Democrat Party to be seated in the U.S. 
     Senate and is currently distinguishing herself for her 
     resolute commitment to equal opportunity in education, 
     advocacy of women's and children's rights, support for 
     business entrepreneurship, expanded economic opportunity, 
     equity for family farmers and fiscal responsibility and for 
     her forceful opposition to all forms of crime; and
       Whereas, on February 29, 1996 the African-American 
     Alliance, the James E. Chaney Foundation, and Local 372 of 
     District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, 
     County and Municipal Employees, are sponsoring ceremonies in 
     the U.S. Capitol Building to pay tribute to the pioneering 
     legacy of these intrepid and highly esteemed role models; 
     Now, therefore, be it
       Resolved that the United States Senate does hereby join in 
     honoring these inspiring legislators and expresses profound 
     gratitude for their innumerable substantive contributions to 
     the pursuit of justice, fairness, equality and opportunity 
     for all U.S. citizens.