John R. Lynch
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|John Roy Lynch|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 6th district
March 4, 1873 - March 4, 1877 and April 29, 1882 - March 4, 1883
|Preceded by||James Ronald Chalmers|
|Succeeded by||Henry Smith Van Eaton|
September 10, 1847|
near Vidalia, Concordia Parish, Louisiana
|Died||November 2, 1939
John Roy Lynch (September 10, 1847 – November 2, 1939) was an American politician, attorney, writer and military officer, who was elected as the first African-American Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1873. He was among the first generation of African Americans elected to the U.S House of Representatives during Reconstruction, the period in United States history after the Civil War.
In his 50s he studied law and was admitted to the Mississippi bar in 1896, but he returned to Washington, DC to practice law, and later moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he lived for more than two decades. He served in the United States Army during the Spanish American War and for a decade in the early 1900s, achieving the rank of major. He was active in law and real estate in Chicago after his military service.
Life and Politics
Lynch was born into slavery near Vidalia, Concordia Parish, Louisiana, as his mother, Catherine White, was a slave, of mixed European and African ancestry. His father, Patrick Lynch, was an immigrant from Dublin, Ireland, who had become a planter and was their master. After John was born, his father planned to move the family to New Orleans and free Catherine and their son. Lynch died of illness before carrying out his plan.
Promising to free the mother and child, a friend had taken title of Catherine and John from Patrick Lynch before he died. But the friend sold the two to a planter in Natchez, Mississippi. Catherine and John were held in slavery until 1863, after the Union Army arrived in Mississippi and President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
After the Civil War ended in 1865, Lynch learned the photography trade and managed a successful business in Natchez. Although the total of his formal education until then was only four months in night school, he educated himself by reading books and newspapers. In addition, Lynch eavesdropped on class lessons in a white school.
Lynch's leadership abilities were recognized in post-war political opportunities. In 1869 he was appointed by the governor as a Justice of the Peace, and later that year was elected to the Mississippi State House. He was re-elected for several terms, serving until 1873; in his last term, he was elected as Speaker of the Mississippi House, the first African American to achieve that position.
At the age of 26, in 1873, he was elected to the US Congress, as part of the first generation of African-American Congressmen. He introduced many bills and argued on their behalf. Perhaps his greatest effort was in the long debate supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to ban discrimination in public accommodations. One of his speeches included the following:
|“||They were faithful and true to you then; they are no less so today. And yet they ask no special favors as a class; they ask no special protection as a race. They feel that they purchased their inheritance, when upon the battlefields of this country, they watered the tree of liberty with the precious blood that flowed from their loyal veins. They ask no favors, they desire; and must have; an equal chance in the race of life.||”|
In 1876 the Democratic Party of Mississippi contested Lynch's third-term election, at a particularly contentious time in the South. Since 1874, the Red Shirts, a white paramilitary group, had worked openly to intimidate and suppress black voting on behalf of the Democratic Party. Lynch was not allowed to take his seat. In 1877 the federal government withdrew its troops from the South as part of a national compromise and Reconstruction was considered ended.
In 1880 Lynch ran against the Democrat James R. Chalmers, and contested the Democrats' declaration of victory. Lynch fought for a year before gaining the seat in 1882. The next election was close, leaving him little time to campaign. Lynch lost re-election in 1882 by 600 votes, at a time when white insurgents practiced intimidation to reduce the black vote.
He served as a member of the Republican National Committee for Mississippi from 1884 to 1889. In 1884, future President Theodore Roosevelt made a moving speech by which he nominated Lynch as Temporary Chairman of the 1884 Republican National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. Lynch thus became the first African American to chair the Convention.
Marriage and family
Also in 1884 Lynch married Ella Sommerville. They had a daughter before their divorce. In 1911 he married again, to Cora Williams. They moved to Chicago, where he lived for the remainder of his years.
Later political and military career
Lynch was appointed as Treasury Auditor of the Department of Navy (1889-1893). After returning to Mississippi, Lynch studied law and passed the Mississippi bar in 1896. He returned to Washington, DC the following year for his practice.
During the Spanish American War, he was appointed in 1898 as a major and paymaster in the Army by President William McKinley. In 1901, Lynch entered the Regular Army as a captain, gaining promotions to major and serving tours of duty in the United States, Cuba, and the Philippines.
After Lynch retired from the Army in 1911, he married again and moved to Chicago in 1912, where he practiced law. He also became involved in real estate, as the city became a destination of tens of thousands of blacks in the Great Migration and was expanding rapidly under the influence also of European immigration.
After his death in Chicago 1939 at the age of 92, Lynch was buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. He was entitled to this as a Congressman and veteran.
After the turn of the century, Lynch wrote a book, The Facts of Reconstruction (1913), and several articles criticizing the then-dominant Dunning School of historiography. Dunning and followers had emphasized the views of former slave owners and routinely downplayed any positive contributions of African Americans during Reconstruction, as well as suggesting they could not manage any political power. Lynch argued that blacks had made substantial contributions during the period. The Facts of Reconstruction is freely available online, courtesy of the Gutenberg Project. Since Lynch participated directly in Reconstruction-era governments, his book is considered a primary source in study of the period.
Works by Lynch
- The Late Election in Mississippi. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1877.
- Colored Americans: John R. Lynch's Appeal To Them. Milwaukee: Allied Printing, [1900?]
- The Facts of Reconstruction. New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1913. Reprint, edited by William C. Harris, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1970.
- The Facts of Reconstruction (New York, 1913), online
- Some Historical Errors of James Ford Rhodes. Boston: The Cornhill Publishing Co., 1922.
- Pittsburgh Courier, article, February 22, 1930.
- List of United States Representatives from Mississippi#6th District
- U.S. House election, 1872
- U.S. House election, 1874
- U.S. House election, 1876
- U.S. House election, 1882
- Bell, Frank C. "The Life and Times of John R. Lynch: A Case Study 1847-1939", Journal of Mississippi History, 38 (February 1976): 53-67.
- DeSantis, Vincent P.Republican Face the Southern Question: The New Departure Years, 1877-1897 (Baltimore, 1959)
- Foner, Eric ed. "Lynch, John Roy" in Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction, Revised Edition. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996). ISBN 0-8071-2082-0.
- Franklin, John Hope. "Lynch, John Roy" in Dictionary of American Negro Biography, edited by Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, pp. 407–9. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1982.
- Franklin, John Hope editor, Reminiscences of an Active Life: The Autobiography of John Roy Lynch (Chicago, 1970).
- Franklin, John Hope. "John Roy Lynch: Republican Stalwart from Mississippi" in Howard Rabinowitz, (ed.), Southern Black Leaders of the Reconstruction Era (Urbana, 1982) and reprinted in John Hope Franklin, Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988 (Louisiana State University Press, 1989)
- "John Roy Lynch" in Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989. Prepared under the direction of the Commission on the Bicentenary by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1991.
- McLaughlin, James Harold. John R. Lynch, The Reconstruction Politician: A Historical Perspective. Ph.D. diss., Ball State University, 1981.
- Mann, Kenneth Eugene. "John Roy Lynch: U.S. Congressman from Mississippi", Negro History Bulletin, 37 (April/May 1974): 238-41.
- Schweninger, Loren. Black Property Owners in the South 1790-1915 (Urbana, Ill., 1990)
- The Facts of Reconstruction by John R. Lynch at Project Gutenberg
- John R. Lynch at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Biography at the African American Registry
- Works by John R. Lynch at Project Gutenberg