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. He had previously been elected to the state house and state senate. He also received appointments to Republican patronage positions.

Early life and education[edit]

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

Political career[edit]

In 1868 Haralson campaigned for Democrat Horatio Seymour to defeat Republican Ulysses S. Grant for president. Some ex-Confederates questioned his sincerity.[4] According to Christopher in America's Black Congressmen, Haralson was a candidate for U.S. Congress in 1868. But the official results do not list him as a candidate in the 1868 elections. He would have been running in the Alabama First District, which reported 100% of votes for one candidate, so they may have conducted a primary in which he was defeated.[5]

In 1870 Haralson allied 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.[4]

In 1870 Haralson was elected as the first black member of the Alabama House of Representatives; he was elected to the State Senate in 1872. He backed Republican 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 feared that he would not be permitted to take his seat in Washington, as many contests were being challenged by disgruntled competitors. He asked Judge Jonathan Haralson, his former master, 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.[6] As a member of Congress, Haralson sought a general amnesty for former Confederates (who were temporarily barred from office) to help create harmony between blacks and whites. He was known for his humorous promise never to intermarry with a white woman, "unless she is rich."[6]

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.[6]

In 1876 Haralson ran for reelection, at a time when white Democrats had largely regained control of the state legislature. Due to redistricting, he was running for Alabama's 4th congressional district. Election campaigns in the 1870s had been violent as Democrats sought to regain control, despite the black-majority or near-majority population in many counties. Former congressman James T. Rapier was from this district. This was the only district in which black population had a great enough majority to elect a Black Republican to congress. Each candidate believed he should 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 their competition divided the black vote, and the Democratic candidate Charles M. Shelley won.

Haralson ran against Shelley in 1878. He received 42.57% of the vote, or 6,545 votes. This was considerably lower than the 8,675 he had received two years before, indicating that Democratic efforts were cutting into black Republican voter rolls.

In 1879, Haralson was appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes to a Federal patronage position in the United States customhouse in Baltimore, Maryland.[4] 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.

Haralson moved to Louisiana, where he engaged in agricultural pursuits. He moved 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.[7] In 1885, Booker T. Washington was proud to announce that Henry was a student at Tuskegee Institute where Washington was president.[8]

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. If this is true, he is the only member of the U.S. Congress to have died in such a manner so far.[9]


  1. ^ a b History of the Negro Race in America, Free Fiction Books
  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. ^ "Jeremiah Haralson", Biographies of Former Congressmen
  4. ^ a b c Bruce Derbes, "Jeremiah Haralson", Encyclopedia of Alabama
  5. ^ Dubin, Michael J. "United States Congressional Elections, 1788-1997: The Official Results". McFarland& Company, Inc., Publishers. Jefferson, North Carolina. 1998.
  6. ^ a b c Val McGee, Selma, p. 379
  7. ^ Encyclopedia of Alabama
  8. ^ Booker T. Washington Papers
  9. ^ Political Wire trivia


  • Jeremiah Haralson at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Bailey, Richard. They Too Call Alabama Home: African American Profiles, 1800-1999. Montgomery: Pyramid Publishing, 1999.
  • Clay, William L. Just Permanent Interests: Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1991. New York: Amistad Press, 1992.
  • Foner, Eric. Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996.
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