History of John Mercer Langston

John Mercer Langston (1829-1897) was born in Louisa County, Virginia. He was the third son of a freed woman (Lucy Langston) and her former white master (Ralph Quarles); both died while he was young. As an heir to a portion of his father's estate, Langston received the finest schooling available. He graduated with honors (1849) from Oberlin College, the nation's oldest coedu-
cational institution and, in 1835, the first to
admit African-American students.

A towering leader of the period after the Reconstruction (1867-1877), surprisingly, Langston's life is most closely associated with that of his brother's grandson - Langston Hughes, the American writer, poet, novelist, and playwright, most known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance.

Langston led a life filled with unparalleled accomplishments during an era when racial prejudice and discrimination proved significant barriers to African Americans. As a result, numerous monuments and honors across the nation bear testament to his educational and political achievements (see partial listing below). For example, within blocks of Langston Bar and Grille, the Federal government erected (1938) the city's first public housing complex to provide affordable dwellings for the city's Depression homeless. Designed by Hilyard Robinson - a Howard University graduate and pioneer in the field of government housing for the poor - Langston Terrace received architectural acclaim for the clean, straightforward international-style lines of the buildings and its Bas-relief decorations.

A partial listing of John Langston's many achievements and accomplishments include the following:

  • (1852) Langston was the first African American to graduate with a degree in Theology (Oberlin College)
  • (1854) He was admitted to the Ohio State Bar Association
  • (1865) Residents of Oberlin, Ohio elected him to the city council
  • (1866) Langston recruited three regiments of African-American soldiers for the Union Army in Ohio and Massachusetts.
  • (1867) He was named inspector general for the Freedman's Bureau, a U.S. federal government agency that aided distressed refugees of the American Civil War
  • (1869) Two years following its founding, Langston served as dean of the Howard University Law School
  • (1873) Howard University's Board of Trustees selected Langston to serve as vice president and acting president when charges of conflict of interest and mismanagement forced the ouster of General Oliver Otis Howard, a career U.S. Army officer, Union general during the American Civil War, and one of the individuals that played a critical role in the establishment of an educational institution to promote the welfare and education of former slaves, freedmen, and war refugees.
  • (1877) Langston was named counsel general and resident manager to Haiti by President Rutherford B. Hayes
  • (1885) He was selected to serve as the president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State University)
  • (1890) Langston was the first African-American elected to the U.S. Congress from the State of Virginia
  • (1894) Three years after losing his bid for reelection to the U.S. Congress, Langston published his autobiography, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: or, The First and Only Negro Representative in Congress from the Old Dominion.