John Roy Lynch, First African American Speaker of the House   Leave a comment

John Roy Lynch (September 10, 1847 – November 2, 1939) was the first African-American Speaker of the House in Mississippi. He was also one of the first African-Americans elected to the U.S House of Representatives during Reconstruction, the period in United States history after the Civil War.


Lynch was born a slave near Vidalia, Concordia Parish, Louisiana. His father, Patrick Lynch, an immigrant from Dublin, Ireland, was a planter near Vidalia. His mother Catherine White was a slave of mixed European and African heritage.[1] After John’s birth, his father planned to move the family to New Orleans and free them. His fatal illness ended this plan. A friend, promising to free the family, took title of John and his mother from Patrick before he died. But the friend instead sold Catherine and John to a planter in Natchez, Mississippi. They were held in slavery until 1863, after the Union Army arrived in Mississippi and President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

John R. Lynch

After the Civil War ended in 1865, Lynch learned the photography trade and managed a successful business in Natchez. Although the total of his formal education was only four months in night school, he educated himself by reading books and newspapers. In addition, Lynch eavesdropped on class lessons in a white school.

Lynch’s leadership was recognized in post-war political opportunities, as he won elections first as Justice of the Peace, and then as Mississippi State Representative. He was only 26 when he was elected to the US Congress in 1873. There, he continued to be an activist, introducing many bills and arguing on their behalf. Perhaps his greatest effort was in the long debate supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to ban discrimination in public accommodations.

The contesting of Lynch’s third term election, in 1876, was typical of the political times. He was not allowed to take his seat, but he ran again in 1880. This election was also contested, and Lynch fought for a year before being seated. The next election was close, leaving him little time to campaign. Lynch lost re-election in 1882 election by only 600 votes.

In 1884 Lynch was the first African American nominated after a moving speech by Theodore Roosevelt to the position of Temporary Chairman of the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.

Also in 1884 Lynch married Ella Sommerville. They had a daughter before their divorce. During the Spanish-American War of 1898, he was appointed Treasury Auditor and then Paymaster under the Republicans. In 1901, he began serving with the Regular Army with tours of duty in the United States, Cuba, and the Philippines.

Lynch retired from the Army in 1911, then married Cora Williams. They moved to Chicago, where he practiced law. He also became involved in real estate. After his death in Chicago 1939 at the age of 92, he was buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. He was entitled to this as a Congressman and veteran.

 Part of his famous speech on civil rights

They were faithful and true to you then; they are no less so today. And yet they ask no special favors as a class; they ask no special protection as a race. They feel that they purchased their inheritance, when upon the battlefields of this country, they watered the tree of liberty with the precious blood that flowed from their loyal veins. They ask no favors, they desire; and must have; an equal chance in the race of life.


Lynch’s writings

After the turn of the centutry, Lynch wrote a book, The Facts of Reconstruction, and several articles criticizing the then-dominant Dunning School historiography. Dunning and followers had emphasized the views of former slave owners and routinely downplayed any positive contributions of African Americans during Reconstruction, as well as suggesting they could not manage any political power. Lynch argued that blacks had made substantial contributions during the period. The Facts of Reconstruction is freely available online,[2] courtesy of the Gutenberg Project. Since he participated directly in Reconstruction-era governments, Lynch’s book is considered a primary source in study of the period.

Works by Lynch

  • The Late Election in Mississippi. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1877.
  • Colored Americans: John R. Lynch’s Appeal To Them. Milwaukee: Allied Printing, [1900?]
  • The Facts of Reconstruction. New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1913. Reprint, edited by William C. Harris, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1970.
  • The Facts of Reconstruction (New York, 1913), online[3]
  • Some Historical Errors of James Ford Rhodes. Boston: The Cornhill Publishing Co., 1922.
  • Pittsburgh Courier, article, February 22, 1930.

[edit] See also


Posted February 20, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Uncategorized

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