Josiah T. Walls

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Josiah T. Walls
Walls josiah.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's At-Large district
In office
March 4, 1871 – January 29, 1873
March 4, 1873 – March 3, 1875
Preceded by Charles M. Hamilton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1875 – April 19, 1876
Succeeded by Jesse J. Finley
Personal details
Born Josiah Thomas Walls
December 30, 1842
Winchester, Virginia
Died May 15, 1905(1905-05-15) (aged 62)
Tallahassee, Florida
Political party Republican

Josiah Thomas Walls (December 30, 1842 – May 15, 1905) was a United States Congressman who served three separate terms in Congress between 1871 and 1876. He was one of the first African Americans in the United States Congress elected during the Reconstruction Era, and the first black to be elected to Congress from Florida. He also served four terms in the Florida Senate.

Early life[edit]

Josiah Walls was born into slavery in 1842 near Winchester, Virginia. Forced to join the Confederate Army and work in support, he was captured by the Union Army in 1862 at Yorktown. He voluntarily joined the United States Colored Troops in 1863 and rose to the rank of corporal. He was discharged in Florida and settled in Alachua County.

Political career[edit]

Walls was elected to the Florida Senate from the 13th district in the sessions of 1869, 1870, 1877 and 1879.[1]

Walls was elected as a Republican and as the sole representative from Florida to the Forty-second United States Congress in 1871, but the vote was contested by Democrat Silas L. Niblack. The U.S. Committee on Elections eventually unseated Walls. Walls ran and was elected again in 1873. In office, Walls introduced bills to establish a national education fund and aid pensioners and Seminole War Veterans.

After serving one term in the house, Walls ran for re-election in 1874. He won the election but Jesse Finley, Democrat and Confederate Colonel, contested the results in a year marked by violence and fraud. He was eventually declared the winner by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. This unseating marked the end of Walls' political career.

Due to a Democratic Party-dominated state legislature that passed a new constitution with provisions that disenfranchised most blacks, African Americans were closed out of the political system until after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, when the federal government enforced rights. In 2011, Congressman Allen West was elected as the next black Republican from Florida. No longer does southern white democrats, who earlier supported slavery and segregation in the South dominate Florida politics.

Leaving politics, Walls operated a successful farm in Alachua County until the disastrous freeze of 1894-95, which destroyed his crops. He took a teaching position as Farm Director of Florida A&M University, a historically black college in Tallahassee. After nearly a decade there, he died on May 15, 1905.


  1. ^ People of Lawmaking in Florida
  • Klingman, Peter D. Josiah Walls: Florida's Black Congressman of Reconstruction. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1976. ISBN 0-8130-0399-7