Professional Growth Tips from America’s First Black Senator

portrait of Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels

Senator Hiram Rhodes Revel, courtesy of the Boston Public Library

In honor of Black History Month (February), I wanted to discuss Hiram Rhodes Revels, who was/is America’s 1st Black Senator. How did this come about? Through his continual pursuit of challenges and development and from his desire to have an impact and participate in the events that were unfolding during his time.

Believer in Continuing Education

Hiram Rhodes Revels believed in professional growth and continuing education before these became typical business terms. Hiram was the son of freemen; his parents were Black but were born free. Hiram attended and graduated from college. After college, he became a minister. Once the Civil War started, as a free Black man, Hiram believed in the need for fellow Blacks to be free and therefore aided in the cause by joining the Union Army, first in a more traditional role that aligned with his minister role, serving as a chaplain in the Union Army. While in the Army, he moved into the role of recruiting and forming troops and helped to create and mobilize African American regiments.

Continued Professional Development

Hiram’s continuing education included honing his ability, over time, to identify and leverage the changes that were occurring around him into opportunities.  He demonstrated this in his move from chaplain to mobilizing African American regiments. When the Civil War ended, Hiram decided to take his talents to Mississippi, where he soon became a state senator. In addition to these amazing achievements, Hiram Revels is in the history books for being America’s first Black Senator

First Black Senator

When a vacancy occurred in one of Mississippi’s U.S. Senate seat, because of his leadership and diligence, Hiram’s colleagues in the legislature nominated and eventually elected him as a U.S. senator. This was made possible by the Civil Rights Act of 1966, which finally recognized all Black people as full citizens of the United States. Hiram officially served as the U.S. Senator from Mississippi from February 25, 1970 to March 3, 1871.

Hiram Rhodes Revel bio, NPS

Hiram Rhodes Revels bio, courtesy of the National Parks Service.


In a desire to educate and elevate others, Hiram Revels started a school for Black children.  Continuing his professional development, after his tenure as the first Black senator, Hiram later served as the President of Alcorn College, which was founded in 1871 and which is the predecessor of Alcorn State University. Alcorn State University is a historically black university (HBCU) located in Lorman, Mississippi.


The takeaway for all of us who are far removed from that time is that continuing education and a commitment to professional development, coupled with active engagement in the important current events of the time can provide significant opportunities. This development and engagement can lead to being positioned as a thought leader or a community leader, which can reap untold benefits for both you and your business.