John Willis Menard (1838-1893) was the first African American elected to Congress, but was not seated after a dispute over the election results. However he became the first African-American to address the U.S. House of Representatives.
Menard, apparently won a contest to complete the term of Rep. James Mann, who had died in office. However, his opponent, Caleb Hunt, challenged the results. The Committee on Elections refused to seat either candidate, leaving the seat vacant for the remainder of the 40th Congress.
Toward the beginning of his 1,410-word speech, Menard said: â€œI wish it to be well understood, before I go further that in the disposition of this case, I do not expect, nor do I ask, that there shall be any favor shown me on account of my
race, or the former condition of that race.â€
Menard attended Iberia College, an abolitionist school in Iberia, Ohio. Twenty-two year old Menard expressed his abolitionist views in his widely read 1860 publication, An Address to the Free Colored People of Illinois. During the Civil War, he became the first African American to serve as a clerk in the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. While there, President Abraham Lincoln dispatched him to research British Honduras (now Belize) as a possible colony for the African American population.
At the beginning of Reconstruction, Menard moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he served as inspector of customs in the city and later as a commissioner of streets. He also published The Radical Standard, a civil rights advocacy newspaper.
founded theNational American magazine. Still politically active, he asked President Harrison to allocate some land for blacks in the West so that they could move out of the South. He died in 1893 at the age of 54.