Jeremiah Haralson

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Jeremiah Haralson
Jeremiah Haralson - Brady-Handy.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1875 - March 3, 1877
Preceded by Frederick George Bromberg
Succeeded by James T. Jones
Personal details
Born April 1, 1846
near Columbus, Georgia
Died 1916 (aged 69–70)
near Denver, Colorado
Political party Republican

Jeremiah Haralson (April 1, 1846 – 1916), was among the first ten African-American Congressmen in the United States. Born in slavery in Columbus, Georgia, Haralson eventually rose to serve in the United States House of Representatives from Alabama's 1st congressional district in the 44th United States Congress.

Early life and education[edit]

Born on the plantation of John Walker near Columbus, Georgia, Haralson was raised as a slave and was self-educated.[1] He was sold on the auction block in Columbus (1225 Broad St.[2]) to J.W. Thompson. When Thompson died he became the property of Judge Jonathan Haralson of Selma, AL.[3] He remained Haralson's slave until 1865. While a slave, he was self-educated and identified as a preacher.[4]

Political life[edit]

In 1868 Haralson campaigned for Democrat Horatio Seymour to defeat Ulysses S. Grant for president. Ex-Confederates questioned his sincerity.[5] Supposedly Haralson was a candidate for U.S. Congress in 1868, according to Christopher in America's Black Congressmen, however the official results do not list him as a candidate in the 1868 Alabama congressional elections. But he would have been running in the Alabama First District, which reported 100% of votes for one candidate, so they may have done a primary previously which may be where he ran and was eliminated.[6] In 1870 he allied himself with the Republican party, but maintained a network with some Democrat leaders. Republicans were suspicious of Haralson because of his friendships with Democrats such as Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederacy, Rep. Lucius Q. C. Lamar of Mississippi, and Georgia Senator and later governor John B. Gordon.[7]

Haralson was the first black member of the Alabama House of Representatives in 1870; he then served in the State Senate in 1872. He backed Ulysses S. Grant for president in 1872. His pro-Grant stance had caused him to have disputes with P. B. S. Pinchback, the African American governor of Louisiana, who served for thirty days.

Jeremiah Haralson.jpg

Haralson was elected as a Republican to the Forty-fourth U.S. Congress (March 4, 1875 - March 3, 1877). After his election, Haralson still feared that he would not be permitted to take his seat in Washington. He turned to his former master, Judge Jonathan Haralson, to advocate his cause. The judge agreed and contacted his friends (former Confederates) then serving in Congress. With the judge's advocacy, Jeremiah Haralson was welcomed into the House of Representatives.[8] As a member of congress he sought for general amnesty for former Confederates to help create harmony between blacks and whites. He also was known for his humorous promise never to intermarry with a white woman, "unless she is rich."[9]

Haralson's oratorical abilities drew the commendation of Frederick Douglass. Douglass called him "one of the most amusing, ready-witted, gifted debaters" he had ever heard.[10]

In 1876 Haralson ran for reelection. Due to redistricting Haralson was now in the 4th congressional district. This was also the residence of former congressman James T. Rapier. This was the only district in which black population was overwhelming enough to allow for the election of a Black Republican to congress. Both Haralson and Rapier felt they should be the one to be elected to congress. Rapier won the Republican nomination but Haralson ran as an independent. Haralson received 33.93% of the vote, more than Rapier did, but less than the Democratic candidate Charles M. Shelley.

Haralson made another run against Shelley in 1878. He received 42.57% of the vote. This was only 6,545 votes, as opposed to the 8,675 he had received two years before, indicating that the end of reconstruction had seen a major decrease in voting.

In 1879, Haralson was appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes to a Federal position in the United States customhouse in Baltimore, Maryland.[11]

He was later employed as a clerk at the Department of the Interior; appointed on August 12, 1882 to the Pension Bureau in Washington, D.C.; he resigned on August 21, 1884.

He moved to Louisiana, where he engaged in agricultural pursuits, and from there to Arkansas in 1894, where he served as pension agent for a short time. He returned to Alabama and settled in Selma in 1912.

Personal life[edit]

In 1870, Jeremiah Haralson married Ellen Norwood and had a son, Henry, born in 1871.[12] In 1885, Booker T. Washington was proud to announce that Henry was a student at Tuskegee Institute where Washington was president.[13]

Later life and death[edit]

Haralson moved to Texas and later to Oklahoma and Colorado; he was a coal miner in Colorado and was allegedly killed and eaten by wild animals near Denver, Colorado circa 1916. He is the only member of the U.S. Congress to have died in such a manner.[14]


  1. ^ History of the Negro Race in America
  2. ^ According to the testimony of former slave Rias Body, the Columbus slave mart was at this address; WPA Slave Narrative of Rias Body
  3. ^ History of the Negro Race in America
  4. ^ Biographies of Former Congressmen
  5. ^ Encyclopedia of Alabama
  6. ^ Dubin, Michael J. "United States Congressional Elections, 1788-1997: The Official Results". McFarland& Company, Inc., Publishers. Jefferson, North Carolina. 1998.
  7. ^ Encyclopedia of Alabama
  8. ^ Val McGee, Selma, p. 379
  9. ^ Val McGee, Selma, p. 379
  10. ^ Val McGee, Selma, p. 379
  11. ^ Encyclopedia of Alabama
  12. ^ Encyclopedia of Alabama
  13. ^ Booker T. Washington Papers
  14. ^ Political Wire trivia


United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Frederick Bromberg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1875 – March 3, 1877
Succeeded by
James T. Jones