Honoring Three American Pioneers
Holy Spirit tells us in Acts 13:36 that King David fulfilled the purposes of God for his generation. This verse speaks loudly to so many who read it, seeming to “jump off the page.” Who among us would not be thrilled to hear those words from the Lord?
I want to share the stories of two of the first African American Congressmen. These men hold a unique role in history and definitely fulfilled God’s purpose for them in their generation. They were pioneers, stepping into governmental positions no black man had ever navigated. These forerunners decided they were going to live out their newly won freedom in every sense of the word, and help all other African Americans live free, as well.
They were not thinking of themselves when they ran for office, nor only of those in the districts they would represent. Hiram and Joseph knew they would be representing every black American living in their era, as well as the generations to come. They were navigating new ground, standing against long-held social mindsets and setting precedents. Both were selfless and brave – the hallmarks of every great leader.
Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first black member of the U.S. Senate. He was elected by the Mississippi State Senate to fill one of two seats vacated when they seceded from the Union in 1863. The remainder of the term was only a year, but Senator Revels filled it well. Hiram had been born free in North Carolina in 1827; he had later become a pastor. Senator Revels knew God had called him to the Senate, however, and had a unique purpose in doing so.
Once in office, the Senator realized he could not represent only Mississippi. He began receiving letters requesting assistance from black men and women across the United States. Jim Crow laws forcing segregation began being passed in 1870 and he fought valiantly against them. As one who knew God, he rightly determined America would not be blessed if racism continued, and certainly not if it was encouraged at the level of the federal government. Mr. Revels stood directly in the middle of the racial battle, favoring neither segregation nor forced integration – he called people to an even higher standard, that of love. Senator Revels once said, “I find that the prejudice in this country to color is very great, and I sometimes fear that it is on the increase….If the nation should take a step toward the encouragement of this prejudice against the colored race, can they have any grounds upon which to predicate a hope that Heaven will smile upon them and prosper them?”
Following his successful year in the U.S. Senate, this American pioneer served as the first president of Alcorn University in Mississippi. Revels then returned to his first passion – serving the Lord in full-time vocational ministry. Hiram Rhodes Revels served the Lord well in his generation.
Joseph Hayne Rainey was the first African American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, also coming into office in 1870. During his 8 years in Congress, Rainey realized he, too, was a representative of more than just his constituents. He was a representative of black men and women across the nation trying to navigate their transition from slavery and the era of reconstruction after the Civil War.
Rep. Rainey, who had been born into slavery, said, “I can only raise my voice, and I would do it if it were the last time I ever did it, in defense of my rights and in the interests of my oppressed people.” He worked on legislation guaranteeing equal rights under the law for African Americans. He also had a love for Native Americans and immigrants of all races. Mr. Rainey’s biography at house.gov tells us he had “vision for human rights, including not only civil and political rights, but economic rights for working people, immigrants, formerly enslaved people and others. He supported the sovereignty of Native American tribes and called on the United States government to respect existing treaties. He praised immigrants and opposed legislation that tried to limit the rights of Chinese laborers in the workplace.” Representative Rainey truly understood the value of all men and women.
Representative Joseph Rainey was a businessman who applied his skill and knowledge to help rebuild America after it was nearly torn apart. Set free from slavery following the great Civil War, he recognized that true freedom would not be seen until laws ensuring equality and justice for all were put in place. Congressman Rainey gave 8 years of his life to be certain it happened.
We have no documentation of Mr. Rainey being a believer, but it appears that the Lord chose him to serve our country at a critical time in its history. He did that well, and we applaud him for it.
Despite the triumphs these men won for America, African Americans and other people of color, no blacks would be elected to the U.S. Congress from 1901 until 1928 – nearly three decades! The spirit of racism taking root through the “Jim Crow Laws” prevailed for a season.
However, God in His great grace did not leave America during those years. In that 27-year gap, America would see one of the greatest revivals ever occurring on U.S. soil – the Azusa Street Revival – led by William Seymour, a black man. The Azusa Street Revival was attended by African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Caucasians. It also transcended gender bias, led by both men and women. The government of man shut out African Americans for a season. God honored them, however, and entrusted a season of great Kingdom advancement to them. The Azusa Street Revival became the headwaters of a stream of Pentecostalism that touched millions of lives, including mine. We honor them. May we, like these great black leaders, fulfill God’s purposes in our generation.
“May He equip you with all you need for doing His will. May He produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to Him. All glory to Him forever and ever! Amen.” (Hebrews 13:21 NLT)
Pray with me:
Father, You place a very high value on honor. We honor You, of course, but we also honor the men and women in history who have given us examples to emulate. Some have pioneered paths for us to follow, others have paid great prices for that which we freely enjoy. We are grateful for the legacy they handed us.
It is honorable and right for us to give tribute to Congressmen Revels and Rainey. They were forerunners in one of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history. We thank You for giving leaders like Lincoln the courage to end slavery, and for the thousands who were willing to fight for that cause. But we also thank You for the brave black women and men who overcame the prejudices of their day and forged ahead with dignity and strength. They are heroes and part of what makes America great.
And Lord, thank You for William Seymour and the grace You poured out at the Azusa Street Revival. Where would we be without that marvelous outpouring which became the spiritual bedrock for many of our lives? It was a great revival, yes, but it was also a movement of freedom within the Christian community. We honor this man.
And Father, we now ask You for a wave of supernatural healing to invade our nation through the coming revival. Tear down walls of racism and prejudice, and heal wounds from the past. We do as You instructed us in Matthew 16, and bind the evil powers of darkness that feed hatred and racism in America. We use the keys of authority You gave us and close that door; we forbid it to remain open.
We ask You to raise up healers – leaders with strong anointings to address this issue. Give them wisdom, revelation, and great authority. Cause their words to be so powerfully anointed that hearts are deeply stirred when they speak and write. Silence the voices that stir up division and strife, that keep wounds open and stir up violence. Take from them their influence. Let a literal movement of racial healing sweep this nation. Cause every race to drink deeply from the coming outpouring of Holy Spirit. Transform lives and communities.
May Your Kingdom come and Your will be done – on earth! – just as it is in heaven. We know our prayers enable You to do these things; they even activate angels. We ask for that now. You are well able to do this and we believe You will! In Jesus’ name. Amen.
We decree that racial healing is coming to America and that all races will be loved and honored in our land.
1 Congressional Globe, Senate, 41st Cong., 3rd sess. (8 February 1871): 1059–1060.
2 “Joseph Hayne Rainey,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present, http://bioguide.congress.gov/; “The Legislature,” 23 September 1868, Charleston Daily Courier: 4; “The Negro Representative—How He Looks, Etc.,” 14 December 1870, Cleveland Plain Dealer: 2.