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Rosette Rochon 
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  Bishop Healy
  John Willis Menard
  Homer Plessy
  Ward Connerly
AP Tureaud
  Bishop Olivier
  George Herriman
  Alexander Dumas
John Willis Menard

First person of color (French Creole) to be elected
to the U.S. Congress





Born. April 3, 1838, Kaskaskia, Ill., U.S.--died. Oct. 8, 1893, Washington, D.C.),

first Person of color elected to the U.S. Congress, who was denied his seat by that body.

During the Civil War (1861-65) he served as a clerk in the U.S. Department of the Interior. In 1865 he moved to New Orleans, where he became active in the Republican Party, serving as inspector of customs and later as a commissioner of streets.

He also published a newspaper, The Free South, later named The Radical Standard. Elected to Congress from Louisiana in 1868 to fill an unexpired term, Menard failed to overcome an election challenge by the loser, and Congress refused to seat either man. In 1871 he moved to Florida, where he was again active in the Republican Party and published the Island City News in Jacksonville.  

John Willis Menard was also a native of Kaskaskia, Illinois. Born there on April 3, 1838, Menard spent his first eighteen years in the small historic village.

The details of John Willis Menard’s early life in Illinois remain sketchy. He was not a slave; some sources describe him as a mulatto--that is, part white. Both of Menard’s parents, said to be of “French Creole” origins, were born in Illinois.

The family seems to have had ties to New Orleans as well. It is believed Menard spent his adolescence at work on a farm in or around Kaskaskia before attending an abolitionist school in Sparta, Illinois. He later studied at Iberia College in Ohio. Although he never received a degree, Menard’s brief education laid the groundwork for a career as a person of color political leader and writer.

Throughout his life, Menard was very active in promoting civil rights for African Americans. In 1859, at the age of twenty-one, he spoke in Springfield, Illinois at a celebration to mark the end of slavery in the West Indies.

Menard’s address to the crowd at the State Fairgrounds on the subject of American Slavery was covered in the Illinois State Journal which stated that Menard “gave able remarks in defense of Liberty and equality. His speech was truly the best of the day.”

REV. PRESTON TAYLOR....a Louisiana Creole

P.S. Pinchback
Other great Men of Color in the Civil War Era

In 1860, John Willis Menard published An Address to the Free Colored People of Illinois. At that time, he maintained a residence in Randolph County, Illinois. Two years after the start of the Civil War, Menard became the first Creole American (person of color) to obtain a clerkship in the Interior Department in Washington, D.C.

Moving to New Orleans to participate in the reconstruction of Louisiana’s government after the end of the Civil War, Menard became the editor of New Orleans newspaper Free South. In 1868, he campaigned and secured the Republican nomination for the unexpired term of deceased Congressman James Mann.

On election day, Menard clearly received the majority of votes. Still, his opponent, Caleb S. Hunt, contested the election. Congressman James A. Garfield, who would later become a U.S. president, stated that “it was too early to admit a Person of Color to the U.S. Congress.” The Committee on Elections of the U.S. House of Representatives agreed and denied Menard his seat. In his quest to be seated in the House of Representatives, Menard spoke before Congress in 1869. He was the first Creole American to stand on the floor of the House and address the Representatives.


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