Author: Luis-Alejandro Dinnella-Borrego

an independent scholar. He received his PhD in American history from Rutgers University in 2013
ENTRY

Langston, John Mercer (1829–1897)

John Mercer Langston served as Virginia’s first African American member of Congress (1890–1891) and as the first president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (later Virginia State University). The son of a white Louisa County planter and the woman he freed, Langston grew up in Ohio, where, as an attorney and local office holder, he helped recruit African American troops during the American Civil War (1861–1865). After the war, his involvement with the Freedmen’s Bureau as inspector of schools brought him back to Virginia. In 1870 Langston became dean of Howard University’s law school and served as acting president of the university from 1873 until 1875. In 1885, the Virginia State Board of Education named Langston president of the new Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. The new school grew under his leadership, but the Democrat-packed board of visitors did not renew his contract two years later. In 1888 he sought the Republican nomination for Congress, but party leader William Mahone engineered his defeat. Langston ran an independent campaign in which a Democrat was named the winner. Langston disputed the election results, however, and eventually Congress seated him for the final months of his term. He lost reelection and returned to Washington, D.C., where he published an autobiography. He died in Washington in 1897.

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